By DON McINTOSH, Associate Editor
November 17, dubbed N17 by activist organizers, was a nationwide day of action for Occupy Wall Street, marking two months since the original Occupy Wall Street protest began in New York City’s financial district.
In Portland, the turn was toward civil disobedience, blocking downtown banks and a Willamette River bridge to protest financial fraud and call for infrastructure investment. The day’s first protest began at 8 a.m. on the east end of the Steel Bridge, where a crowd of 200 to 300 union members and supporters gathered. The action — “Get On The Bridge: We Declare a State of Economic Emergency for the 99%”— was called by the labor-backed community outreach group We Are Oregon and publicized by the national AFL-CIO and local groups, including Portland Jobs with Justice.
The plan was for a subgroup to block the car lanes on the bridge and be arrested. But at the event, it was Portland police who blocked traffic, shutting down the street before protesters moved on the bridge. So the civil disobedients moved to the front of the crowd, sat down in the road, and were arrested one by one.
Police reported 25 arrests on the bridge. Communications Workers of America Local 7901 President Madelyn Elder was arrested. So was Service Employees International Union Local 503 Executive Director Heather Conroy, along with six SEIU staff: Joye Camacho, Samuel Davila, Aaron Giesa, Bob Rossi, Lorene Scheer, and Maro Sevastopoulos. Also arrested: Jamie Partridge (National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 82); Peter Parks (International Longshore and Warehouse Union); Tim Flanagan (retired American Federation of Teachers-Oregon); Kent Sprang (retired Portland Association of Teachers); Bill Magorian (United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555); Steven Gilliam (Oregon Action staff organizer); William Kelsey; Tessa Brooks; Johanna Brenner; Katie Coomber-Bernard; Elizabeth Elwood; Elizabeth Campos; Michael Colvin; Craig Mahaffy, Eduardo Rocha; Troy Geary; and Nathan Bennet.
The Steel Bridge was chosen because it’s an example of a bridge that has structural deficiencies and a need for repair: 25 million Americans are looking for work, protest organizers said, but Congress won’t pass a jobs bill.
About a dozen members of Laborers Local 483 attended the bridge event bearing orange picket signs to make a parallel point: Portland, with a massive backlog in road repair, is planning to cut its budget for street maintenance next year, and lay off as many as 100 workers.
After the arrests, the crowd crossed the river on the below-deck pedestrian part of the Steel Bridge, and gathered in Tom McCall Waterfront Park for a rally where Occupy Portland first assembled Oct. 6. From there, the crowd — joined by participants in Occupy Portland — marched to several downtown banks, where smaller groups of protesters planned to commit civil disobedience.
Security guards prevented protesters from entering a Bank of America branch at Southwest Second and Morrison.
At a Wells Fargo branch across from Pioneer Square, members of the Portland Central America Solidarity Committee protested, and nine were arrested. Kari Koch, a former union organizer who was one of those arrested, says Wells Fargo was targeted because it is a primary investor in GEO Group, the world’s second largest private prison company. GEO lobbies for stricter immigration enforcement … and profits from it, as the operator of privatized immigration detention facilities. Also arrested were Nat Holder; Jacob Dacks; Adam Carpinelli; Erik Ray Olson; Craig Hennecke; Eliana Machuca; Abigail Singer; and Samantha Easton Roberts.
Meanwhile, at a Chase bank branch, also across from Pioneer Courthouse Square, another group of activists with We Are Oregon entered to serve an “eviction” notice, then marched on the sidewalk. Mounted police and police in riot gear arrived, and shoved protesters and used pepper spray.
The bridge arrestees were charged with disorderly conduct, given different court dates, and are being defended by SEIU Local 503’s in-house legal counsel. The Wells Fargo arrestees were charged with criminal trespass and are being defended pro bono by members of the National Lawyers Guild. Both groups were released almost immediately.