A red light shone down upon the camp, casting a light reminiscent of fires of civilizations past. Similar camaraderie hung in the air. It was somewhere around midnight in Portland, Oregon; in front of the soon to be former ICE offices.
For the past week I had been inundated with images, video, audio, and all sorts of commentary surrounding what I can only describe as the slow descent into another holocaust. The suffering is so overt, and our “leaders’” reactions are either absurdly hollow or nauseatingly inhumane. It seems the suffering of those thousands of children is seared into the very forefront of the current American Psyche. It is the topic of conversation everywhere I go. Regardless of political affiliation, people seem awestruck at the overt mirroring of what happened in Nazi Germany and other authoritarian regimes that culminated in mass deaths.
Clearly, we have reached a point where this has become intolerable. Across the country, movements have been springing up like flowers through cracks in a concrete sidewalk. But the first to spring towards the sky with such force that it actually broke the concrete by itself was the Occupy ICE PDX movement. What started out as 9 people chanting with signs quickly exploded into an occupation, unlike anything since OWS. The sheer force of the people there is sufficient that the painters tape they applied across the doors of the office was enough to stop ICE agents from entering. Portland’s ICE office shuttered itself in response to the occupation.
Maybe ICE thought everyone would go away if they performatively closed their doors. The shuttering of the ICE office only served to further inflame the occupation, and feed its growth. It will strike you silent to see what you had always perceived to be an unstoppable force come to a halt. I was dumbstruck when I first saw the camp.
They just did all that. It shook me to my very core and it should shake you too. We have immense power, and there it was all publicly on display. Everything from the stacks of food to the beautiful sound of comrades unitings was pregnant with power. An entire office facilitating some of the most horrific indignities in the Western developed world was rendered impotent. By people sharing bread and shelter. By people simply existing, digging their heels into the ground and saying “no”.
By the time I arrived the camp was already humming along nicely. Bathrooms had been set up, a small kitchen and food distribution center, and children were playing games with each other. In the face of such tragedy there was so much hope packed in between two buildings. People surrounding me were all stepping up to help wherever they were needed. There was plenty of talk, but there was more action by far. Which I believe to be the key to the success this movement has had, and will be the key to success with many more similar actions.
My comrades and I set off to set up our camp and help out wherever we could. Barricades grew exponentially, blocking off access further to the ICE offices. The occupied alleyway stretches from the street all the way down to the edge of Tesla’s property, the bright sign cast a glow over a grassy hill that would also become occupied within hours. Once our base was set up and some more materials distributed we set off to explore the camp.
It was around 8 PM and what appeared to be the general assembly starting. The crowd outside the front entrance to the ICE building was packed tighter than sardines in a can. Despite all the people, it was the most well organized meeting I had ever seen. In the minutes I was able to stay in the crowd I observed everyone being afforded a fair opportunity to speak, and when people spoke everyone listened intently. Unfortunately, I could not stay long at the General Assembly, but when I left it was still buzzing along amazingly.
After my unexpected jaunt in the forest, I returned to a camp blanketed by night. Even in darkness, the camp buzzed with life. After grabbing a slice of pizza (pizza was one of the most abundant foods the first few nights), I grabbed a bottle of wine from my tent and went to the hill overlooking the Tesla building.
En route, I witnessed some beautiful acts of defiance against the American Gestapo. Well into the night barricade construction carried on. People packed their trucks and vans full of construction materials and were convoying them down to the camp.
Quickly, the materials were assembled over the existing barricades. The campground seemed impenetrable already but was reaching new levels. Funnily enough, these people didn’t seem to be working, they seemed to be living. None of the usual tedium or agitation many of us feel as we labor away at tedious tasks under fluorescent lights. Instead the mood was jovial, people met and became friends as they moved trees and strung up tarps.
One of the multiple barriers blocking entry to the ICE facility was a few dozen feet away, staffed by a handful of vigilant folks watching out. Security teams walked by as they patrolled the night. My comrades and I drank and fell into those deep discussions that can only occur while wine is flowing in the wee hours of the morning underneath the cloud speckled starry sky.
Nobody seemed uncomfortable (once they had warmed up to the new environment, of course, nearly every newcomer seemed a bit surprised when they first walked in) . Everyone was just peacefully coexisting, with the exception of a few personal conflicts that were handled by the de-escalation team. Many people have this backwards notion that it is police and law enforcement that keeps people safe. This is absolutely disproven the moment you walk into #OccupyICEPDX. What truly keeps people safe is a strong sense of community and belonging. In a place where people can simply belong, everyone feels invested in the well being of that place. It was also even safe just to walk around. Broken glass was absent, paths were well lit, and everything was made accessible to people of all abilities.
There were rumours and sightings of fascists at this time. however any sort of aggressor was quickly scared off by the roving community patrols.
As the sky began to lighten my comrades and I packed up out bottles for recycling and headed back to camp to tuck in for the night. A few hours later we clambered out of our tent and into a rainshower. Rain pouring down on the camp did nothing to quell the spirit of the people in it.
Even as the sky opened up above us people simply went to work setting up tarps and moving things around. Hot coffee and chocolate was passed around as people emerged from tents. New neighbors greeted each other good morning like old friends.
A run home, a nap, and a shower later, we returned to camp. It’s growth had continued to accelerate in our absence, with the barricades even higher and more fortified.
More and more surfaces were being covered with art made by humans, as opposed to the sterile focus-grouped designs we had all been subjected to all our lives. City blocks usually never look, so much as feel like this.
Also in our absence, occured handfuls of demonstrations by multiple groups. Aztecs dancers like the ones seen on MayDay in Seattle graced the occupiers with a beautiful dance, religious leaders led people in prayers. Most importantly, people were in higher spirits from before.
The rain was a distant memory, replaced by scorching heat. Rain shelters were repurposed into sun shelters. Sunscreen and aloe spread through the camp. People adapted to changes in the environment astonishingly fast, resulting in no deprecation of comfort (well ok, being rained on made some people a little chillier, and some of the folks in black bloc must have been sweltering) or well being.
I grabbed some water and started walking the perimeter of the now-expanded occupation.
Slowly the soon-to-be-former ICE building was being covered in decorations. Someone had climbed up the side of the ICE building and duct-taped an Anti-Fascist flag to a window on the third or fourth story.
Signs had appeared on every surface that would hold them, like flowers in a meadow that had sprung up overnight. Surfaces not covered in signs were being decorated with chalk.
Unfortunately, some people had decided they disagreed with the disagreement to kidnapping and torturing children. A couple of agitators, both with the fascists and with hostile mainstream media,
attempted to disrupt the occupation but were quickly shut down. Someone had been so upset at the idea of people disagreeing with state-sanctioned kidnapping it motivated them to modify a squirt gun to spray animal feces and spray it towards a group of people holding signs on the sidewalk. Another man with “white power” tattoos stood on the corner waving a large knife and chanting white-supremacist slogans until RASH members began to walk up to him. Immediately, the man reconsidered his decision and departed without incident. Once the sewage mess was tidied up, the protest continued on as if nothing had happened. It seems that nothing will hamper the spirit of the people there.
The sun reached its peak in the sky and people working the food tent took it upon themselves to start distributing ice cream Ben and Jerry’s Ice cream slices and fruit popsicles were handed out to everyone.
Barricades has expanded, and the wall around the grassy hill had expanded to the bushes. The checkpoint at the entryway to the facility was even more fortified with all sort of materials. It seemed like there was an endless stream of people donating to the movement happening.
I laid back down on the grass, watching the sky and the people milling about at the bottom of the hill. Despite the gut wrenchingly thing that brought everyone here today, there was a sense of hope. If one city could halt their local ICE operations, and in turn at the very least cause the machines endlessly trying to consume us all, especially the most vulnerable, to tumble; then maybe it will be alright. Reportedly, there were about a dozen ICE agents and workers in that building. There are hundreds of us. It wouldn’t be a far stretch to say that the ratio would be similar in other cities and towns.
In stark contrast to the vibrant buzz of the community surrounding it, the ICE offices stood cold and lifeless. It has the feeling of a corpse hunched over on a hillside. Lights flickered on automatically, or maybe in response to a pest that had found its own freedom to explore; but nobody was home.
Luxury vehicles (reminder that ICE agents make an average of $61,000 per year, 50% of the country makes $30,000 or less per year) sat abandoned in the parking garage underneath flickering lights. DHS had showed up previously to escort the agents out, and it seems like they will never return to these offices. The energy and dedication of the people holding vigil were ready to ensure that. For once the flowers had choked the weeds out, and hopefully the rest of the garden will soon follow.
By the time I had stopped daydreaming about a day with no borders, someone had added an additional sign to the higher stories of the building. With a lot of people who care this much, maybe things won’t be as terrible.
next part incoming soon.