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Occupy Portland takes its place with other major protests

Weekend confrontation consistent with Portland's 'Little Beirut' reputation
by: Christopher Onstott Portland’s reputation as a liberal protest town earned it the nickname “Little Beirut” in the 1990s. This weekend’s Occupy Portland protests have been among the largest, and most peaceful, the city has seen in decades.

The weekend standoff at the Occupy Portland camp will likely go down in the long list of political protests that earned the city the nickname 'Little Beirut' among Secret Service officers.

All the protests included large crowds of demonstrators in the streets who clashed with the police before retreating to fight another day.

A staffer for President George H.W. Bush reportedly coined the term to describe the protests that traditionally greeted Republican officials on campaign swings through the Rose City. In fact, the history of local political confrontations goes back much further than that, to the earliest days of labor organizing, especially along the city's docks.

But the modern era arguably began on May 11, 1970. That was when Portland police forcibly evicted anti-Vietnam War protesters from the South Park Blocks where they had gathered immediately after the Kent State shootings, May 4, 1970, in Ohio.

About 30 protesters were hospitalized and liberals blamed then-Parks Commissioner Frank Ivancie for the violence. The charge helped fuel tavern owner Bud Clark's successful mayoral campaign against Ivancie in 1984.

Chasing anarchists

Anarchists first made the news in Portland on July 18, 1993, when police in riot gear showed up outside the X-Ray Café, a former all-ages club on West Burnside where some participants at an anarchist convention were gathering. A two-hour stand off ensued before the anarchists took off through downtown with police in pursuit.

Protesters with Occupy Portland gathered Saturday night and held their ground early Sunday morning as police tried to enforce a midnight deadline for between 200 and 400 people to leave two downtown parks. • CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT/PORTLAND TRIBUNE

Some store windows were broken during the so-called Anarchist Riot. X-Ray Café co-owner Tres Shannon has since opened the very popular Voodoo Donuts.

Other confrontations occurred during some of the annual May Day rallies and marches staged by various labor and left-leaning organizations during the years. One in 2000 ended with police chasing participants through the streets, pepper-spraying some and arresting 20. It tainted the administration of Police Chief Mark Kroeker, who had recently been hired by Mayor Vera Katz.

The start of first Gulf War and the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001, also inspired large protests. The 'Little Beirut' reputation was well established by the time President George W. Bush visited Portland for an August 2002 fundraiser for Republican Oregon U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith in a downtown hotel.

Thousands of demonstrators marched through the streets to the hotel, where they were met by police in riot gear.

Officers used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd, which was boxed in by the high-rise buildings along the narrow streets.

Bush returned for another fundraiser about a year later. This one was held at Portland State University, which helped keep the number of protesters down. Police still had to keep some away, however.

By January 2004, Republicans figured out it was best not to hold gatherings downtown or even at the University of Portland. Vice President Dick Cheney appeared at reception at a hotel near the Portland Airport that only drew a handful of demonstrators.

Largest gathering so far

Mass demonstrations occur more often when Republicans are in office and have been relatively rare since President Barack Obama took office. A number have been held to mark the anniversaries of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Those related to Occupy Portland are among the largest in town, however, especially the initial Oct. 6 march that drew an estimated 10,000 people, and this weekend's gathering around the camps in Chapman and Lownsdale squares, when an estimated 5,000 people flooded the area at the peak of the otherwise peaceful gathering.

Almost everyone went home by Sunday morning, however, giving police an opportunity to peacefully clean up the camp sites without significant opposition.