Today my seven-year-old daughter and I spent some time Occupying Portland. Why? Because protesting is as democratic as voting. In 2008, she joined me in the voting booth. In 2011, she joined me in the streets.
As we meandered through the tent village in Chapman park, I asked her what she thought about the community there. She looked around for a minute, then turned to me and said, “It’s like how the strands of a polar bear’s fur work together to keep it warm.”
Several things struck me about the occupiers. First, everyone we met was incredibly warm and friendly. We were offered food on multiple occassions. People engaged me, and my daughter, in conversation. And the occupiers were profusely thankful for the police. Over and over they thanked the officers around the perimeter of the camp. And the officers smiled back and engaged in light banter.
Secondly, there was a fairly diverse group of people there. It was largely reflective of the racial demographic of Portland, and the age was spread on a bell curve from the very young (lots of kiddos around) to the very old. In addition to those who were had pitched their tents and were occupying the park around the clock, were a quite a number of “commuters” like my daughter and me.
Finally, the signs were telling. The vast majority of signage referred to the hope for a better future, than an indictment of the current climate. Messages of peace, love, and generosity were the order of the day. That was surprising, as many of the signage I’d seen on the news were of the “I am the 99%” ilk.
We met some great people. We talked with Rio, a 53-year-old man who was playing guitar and stopped so we could swap tattoo stories. We had a great conversation with a young man named Danny. He held a sign that read, “Free Therapy. I listen.” Danny is 20 and from Astoria, OR. He came down a couple days ago because he wanted to feel a part of something bigger. What he found was a lot of people who needed an ear to listen. So he made his sign and sits on a bench near the middle of Chapman Square, waiting for “clients.” Lucy from the Peanuts couldn’t do it better.
I asked Danny if there were any common themes that came up as he listened. He told me that there really aren’t. Everyone seems to have their own issues. What holds them in common is that they don’t have anyone to talk to about them.
In my last post, I talked about the need for prophets among the protestors; those who would give a new vocabulary with new metaphors to the grief that is welling up. My visit reinforced this all the more. Our country needs to lament. And it needs prophets to lead them in their wails. In the end, I asked Sydney to reflect on the experience. What was it that she took away from it?“Sometimes, when people feel like they don’t matter and things just aren’t fair, they need to get together. Then, maybe they can feel important and like someone will listen to them.”
Out of the mouth of babes…