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Rebels with a lot of causes

Occupy Portland part of global movement
by: Shanda Tice Occupy Portland protestor Bill Cornett flashes a peace sign to oncoming traffic along the now open Main Street in downtown Portland.

Arkyne Merallon sorts recyclables and trash at the Occupy Portland site in Chapman Square, where hundreds of protesters have been camping since Oct. 6.

He takes a smoke break the morning of Oct. 13 and explains why he's here. Merallon, 31, notes he once worked security for a municipal government in Oregon and part of his job was rousting homeless people from places where they were illegally sleeping. After sending one too many souls out into the snow and the rain, he'd had enough.

'I want to see people live, not just survive,' he says as he puffs on rolled tobacco away from the general encampment. He'd like to see less inequality in the world, and dismisses critics who see the Occupy Portland protesters as a ragtag army.

'There's a good core of people here,' he says. 'For the most part it's peaceful. For the most part it's decent.'

The 99 percent

Occupy Portland is one of scores of protests taking place worldwide against predatory capitalism, bank bailouts, government corruption, war, pollution, corporate farming practices and numerous other phenomena of our troubled time.

Technically, the encampment is illegal, but Portland has discretion when it comes to enforcing the law, notes Police Chief Mike Reese, adding the city's well aware Occupy Portland is part of a much broader movement.

For the most part, he says, campers have been peaceful, noting eight were arrested Oct. 13 for refusing to leave Main Street. Otherwise, he says, Occupy Portland organizers have been in constant communication with the police, and he credits them for keeping dialogue going with the authorities.

'We're here to facilitate people's right to express themselves,' he says.

The protests began with Occupy Wall Street in Manhattan last month, which galvanized dissenters across the planet.

On Oct. 15 alone, similar minded protests took place all across the United States, Europe, Australia and Asia. For the most part they were peaceful, although the one in Rome, Italy, was marred by violence, and protests in other cities were marked by arrests.

If you had to boil it down, the one thing that feeds the anger of most of the protesters seems to be the belief the world's 'haves' have taken too much from the 'have-nots.'

Take Robin, who declined to share her last name, but visited the Occupy Portland encampment Oct. 14. The 50-year-old Gresham woman is a former office worker who suffers from fibromyalgia and multiple sclerosis and lives on Social Security disability checks. She fears the tanking economy may eventually take down with it the social welfare programs on which people like her depend.

'I am really sick of the corporate greed and the Wall Street greed and the bonuses greed,' she says, referring to the bonuses some banking officials took after taxpayers bailed out their employers.

She adds she's planning to withdraw her money from Bank of America and put it in a credit union because the bank recently decided to charge monthly debit card fees.

'I feel like we're the peons and the serfs, and they're the kings ruling the countryside,' she says, adding she plans to visit Occupy Portland again this week.

Monk of Gateway

He appears to be in his late 60s and is a genial enough fellow, sitting inside a small tent in Lownsdale Square, across from Chapman. He's been on a hunger strike for three days, ingesting only liquids. He called himself 'The Monk of Gateway.'

A homeless unemployed millwright, The Monk is sitting next to a cardboard sign that displays his plan for action. 'Nationalize the Fed' it reads, referring to the Federal Reserve. 'Abolish the IRS.' 'Institute Flat Tax.'

The reporter says these complaints almost sound like something a right-wing Tea Party supporter might write, a comment that elicits a smile from The Monk, who notes he's no fan of Barack Obama. He adds he believes everyone in Congress as well as the president and vice president should take a 50 percent pay cut.

'The people who put us here are all rich,' he says, blaming sheer greed for getting the country off its moorings. How long will he refuse to eat?

'Till I see some change in the movement,' The Monk says, then alludes to a post-apocalyptic Mel Gibson movie.

'It looks like a 'Mad Max' world if change doesn't come.'

The Farmer and The Jester

You can definitely feel an undercurrent of anger among some of the protesters with Occupy Portland, but it exists side by side with a sense of exhilaration and even joy at times. One lady who embodies those latter feelings is Angella Davis, who grows potatoes and onions in Damascus.

A married mother of three children, Davis has come down to Portland to donate 60 pounds of potatoes to feed folks in the encampment. Davis says Occupy Portland is 'the First Amendment in its purest form' and is pleased it hasn't been marred by the kind of violence anti-globalization protests have seen in the past.

'This isn't about busting Starbucks' windows,' she says. 'This is not about tagging police cars.'

Like other protesters, she says she believes its time for the powerful to share the burdens of the powerless.

'I want congressmen to pay as much taxes as the people who clean their offices,' she says.

Like a number of left-leaning Occupy Portland protesters, she's not exactly happy with Obama, although she notes her belief he inherited a 'giant snake pit' when he took office.

'The problem is the hope he used to get elected,' she says. 'He used our hard-earned blood and sweat and tears and money to bail out giant failed banks.'

Meanwhile, jamming with several other protesters is Adam Sherburne, a guitarist from Southeast Portland dressed as a jester.

The former vocalist of the radical left band Consolidated, Sherburne worked for a number of years with homeless folks in Portland, teaching them how to play music.

He's fiercely committed to ending corporate control of the music industry, which he feels squeezes dry the creative juices flowing in everyone.

'I'm here to end war, to end poverty and to end slavery,' he adds. 'It's a funky rumble, baby.'