Activists try a new tack for Thursday rally
May Day parade organizers apply for permit for first time
Weeks after staging some of the largest antiwar demonstrations in Portland's history, some activists now are questioning protest tactics they think backfired.
For the first time, May Day parade organizers have taken out a permit for the annual labor celebration. Previous organizers have refused to even apply for a parade permit, sparking confrontations with police and heated City Hall debates.
Last year's parade did have a permit, but it was taken out by former council member Mike Lindberg, rather than the organizers.
But after the chaos created by the recent antiwar protests that did not have valid permits, this year's organizers decided to play by the rules. They have taken out a permit for the parade, scheduled to leave the North Park Blocks at 4:30 p.m. Thursday.
'We don't want to interfere with workers who are simply trying to get home after a long day on the job,' said Peter Savage, an official with Local 247 of the Carpenters Union, who filed for the permit on behalf of the May Day Coalition.
Portland State University history professor David Horowitz thinks that activists will have to do a lot more to restore their credibility with most Americans, however. As Horowitz sees it, the recent protests were so strident and wrongheaded that few people take the antiwar movement seriously anymore.
Speaking at an April 21 PSU forum on the war, Horowitz, who protested against the Vietnam War as a young PSU professor in the 1970s, described the movement as pervaded by a 'depressive mentality' that blames the United States for everything wrong with the world today.
'I regret that the moral smugness, ideological rigidity and marginalized nature of the peace lobby have left the American public without a credible opposition that can reasonably examine the strategic choices that most certainly await us down the road,' Horowitz said.
Even some local activists are reassessing the recent protests that clogged downtown traffic, closed area freeways and resulted in more than 170 arrests. In recent weeks, attendance has plummeted at such ongoing demonstrations as the Friday afternoon Pioneer Courthouse Square rallies sponsored by the Portland Peaceful Response Coalition.
As a result, activists are struggling with the question of how to regain the supporters who are drifting away, said coalition spokesman Will Seaman.
Activists admit errors
Despite criticism, the antiwar movement still has many supporters, including Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore. He said recently that the activists are 'visionaries' grappling with such major policy questions as the appropriate use of military force, the United States' leadership role around the world, and the war's impact on the U.S. economy.
'The people in this country who are raising these questions are playing a very important role in framing an issue that's not going to go away,' he said. 'It's not just the major foreign policy issue of our time, it's the major domestic policy issue, too.'
Helma de Vries, a research assistant at the University of Maryland, said the activists succeeded at mobilizing, on short notice, a large number of people to oppose the war.
'The remarkable thing about the antiwar protests was the huge number of regular people who showed up, just to say they were against what was happening,' said de Vries, who surveyed protesters throughout the country as part of her work with professor Mark Lichbach, chairman of the Government and Politics Department at the University of Maryland.
Some local activists concede that mistakes were made, however. Alex Harvill, a coffee roaster and regular Critical Mass bicycle ride participant, believes that the few small incidents of property damage that occurred during the recent protests hurt the credibility of the entire movement.
'Many consumers so identify with McDonald's and the Gap that they take it personally when (these businesses) are attacked,' he said.
At the same time, Harvill defended protest tactics such as blocking area streets, bridges and freeways. As he sees it, many activists believe that the consumer and car cultures are based on a capitalist system that oppresses workers and exploits natural resources.
'They were a physical attack on downtown businesses and a psychological attack on motorists,' Harvill said.
Horowitz believes that such statements prove the protest movement is out of touch with the vast majority of Americans.
'The basic premise is, the American people are pigs who don't know any better,' he said. 'But you can't hope to impact peoples' views if you don't respect them.'
Antiwar events coming up
Despite the reassessments, local activists are still planning and holding a large number of events:
• Talks, video showings, panel discussions and fund-raisers are listed for almost every night of the week on local activist Web sites such as portland.indymedia.org.
• The Peaceful Response Coalition is continuing its 5:30 p.m. Friday rallies in Pioneer Square.
• Critical Mass is still flooding downtown streets with bike riders every Friday afternoon.
• Weekly antiwar rallies also are being held in the Belmont, Hillsdale, Hawthorne, Hollywood and Mount Tabor neighborhoods.
And, according to Savage and others, thousands of people are expected to attend this year's May Day parade.
'The Bush administration says we're in a state of permanent war, so we need a permanent protest movement,' Seaman said.
Still unresolved is the fate of those arrested during the last few weeks, however.
The Southeast Law Center is coordinating the defense of protesters arrested since the war started March 20. Paul Loney, an attorney there, estimates that at least 170 people have been arrested since then. Most face multiple charges such as failure to obey the police, reckless endangerment and resisting arrest.
Loney said a handful of protesters already have pleaded guilty to reduced charges, but most are waiting to see the evidence against them before deciding how to plead.
Multnomah County Community Judge Stephen Todd is overseeing most of the cases. He predicts that most of the pleas will be entered in late May.
'The legal strategy is to have these people found not guilty if they are not guilty.,' Loney said. 'Many of these arrests will not be backed up by witness statements and videotapes.'