My View • Movement faces real world problems on Portland streets
The first day of the season's heavy rains was almost enchanting. You lay that night in the occupied park blocks listening to a pizzicato 'Magnificat' pattering on the rooftop of your tent, your anti-Wall Street heart resounding, 'The rich he has sent empty away.'
Now it's cold, it's wet and, along with a persistent cough, that's not J.S. Bach you're hearing, it's Joe Strummer: 'Should I stay or should I go?'
It's the moment of truth for Occupy Portland.
Most activist movements fade through loss of heart or mission. Stalwarts grow fewer and louder as the tepid drift to the periphery, until the last true believer is left shouting at no one. Occupy Portland peaked early and artificially, its ranks swelled by Portlanders with no particular political affiliation. Its demise in the early November rains, if it comes, will be sudden as the popping of a soap bubble and equally unrelated to politics.
Simply put, those heading home will be those with homes to go to.
As our society grows more complex, vertical and distinct, more persons are unable to fit in. For the most part they are broken - old, poor, lame, mad, mistreated, usually easy to ignore. That is, they were until Mayor Sam Adams carved a temporary exception into the city's anti-camping ordinance for the occupied Plaza Blocks. Overnight, the mostly young, mostly starry-eyed protesters discovered the problems of this world are right in front of them - where they had been all along.
Organizers, to their great credit, kept the gates open and welcomed the hordes of newcomers with a steady supply of food, blankets, parkas and starry-eyed camaraderie, but the difficulties of mental illness and addiction quickly overwhelmed their resources.
Occupy Portland leaders tried again and again to get some help. They asked for medical services; they got police. They begged the county for aid; they got silence.
The starry-eyed kids had all the right ideas, all the right instincts. The responsible grown-ups at Multnomah County's Mental Health Division have been playing the bratty 4-year-olds who can't make their little motorcar go, so nobody else gets to try winding it up either.
The kids know, too, that madness, homelessness, addiction and unemployment are imminently fixable, especially compared to busting down the capitalist system. The 'impossibility' of these problems comes from never having tried.
Now, as the cold rains fall, things aren't looking good for Occupy Portland or for the thousands of Portland's homeless. If the sleet doesn't break them, our icy inattention will.
Jenny Westberg writes on behalf of the board of the Mental Health Association of Portland.