In protest of an EPA mandate to bury Portland’s historic water reservoirs, activists and organizers together with the neighbors of this city launched Camp Cascadia at the base of Mt. Tabor last Friday. After years of stagnation from City Hall in procuring a waiver to the plan know as ‘LT2’, the people of this community have had enough. After considerable media hype over the so-called ‘Occupy Mt. Tabor’, Camp Cascadia has turned out to be a consummate success.
As covered previously by Rebel Metropolis, the waiver to LT2, similar to a deferment that New York City received, has so far eluded Portland. While LT2 is a federal mandate, city hall has the authority to request the waiver from either the EPA, the Oregon Health Authority, or a congressional delegation. City Hall alleges making such a request years ago, however, current mayor Charlie Hales has yet to engage in any effort to secure the waiver.
Unfortunately, Charlie Hales may also have a serious conflict of interest with LT2, as his former employer HDR stands to profit from the overall plan – one which activists assert is the tip of the iceberg in a much larger plot to privatize the entire regional water supply. Joe Glicker, a former water bureau engineer and current head of CH2M Hill also has a major behind-the-scenes roll that has allowed him to get rich off the LT2 plan.
So it was out of this frustration and breach of bureaucratic trust that Camp Cascadia was born. Initially organized by long-time direct action activists Jessie Sponberg, Micaiah Dutt, and Jess Hadden, the input and direction of the camp was shaped by an ever increasing group of individuals eager to lend their skill and support.
Early press indicated this would be a round the clock occupation. Media speculated on how mayor Hales would respond to such civil disobedience. Mt. Tabor Park, the home of Portland’s endangered reservoirs, closes daily at midnight. Beginning at 5pm on Friday, July 12th, 2013, dozens of people began gathering at the corner of SE 60th and Hawthorne. Countless flyers were handed out to passing motorists. The stream of approving car honks was constant. The mood was jubilant. A mix of activists and neighborhood association members illustrated the broad reach of concern over this issue. As more and more people arrived, the command was finally given to set up tents. Camp Cascadia was officially opened.
It wasn’t long after the tents went up that green-clad rangers entered the camp to inform people that this was a violation of park rules and city code. Legal observers with Camp Cascadia learned that the tents constitute a ‘built structure’, as do any object hung from a tree. Even a simple table that activists had set up for food and water violated this rule, though organizers successfully negotiated with park staff to allow a small number of tables to remain.
After repeated warnings by rangers that the tents would have to be removed, a squad of six PPB officers on ATVs arrived, loudly announcing their presence with engines revving. A crowd quickly gathered around the police. Legal observers and livestreamers wasted no time recording the names and badge numbers of the officers. After several minutes, the air was hardly breathable from the plumes of exhaust emitted from the idling vehicles. A chief ranger and officers spoke with organizers of the Camp for several minutes. Once the conversation ended, an announcement was made. If the tents didn’t come down, the officers would raid the entire camp. The decision was made to dismantle the tents instead of risking injury to the people present, many of whom were small children.
Whether the police knew it or not, the Camp’s organizers had decided days prior that no overnight camping would take place the first night in order to avoid a direct confrontation. The staging of the tents had been done to test the response of the police. Predictably, the PPB responded with aggressive threats of force.
The first evening of the camp continued without harassment by law enforcement. Food Not Bombs arrived to feed the throngs with a delicious vegan meal. People tossed around frisbees and footballs. Music was played. People sang. Children played. As the sun began to set, announcements were made. As previously planned, and in the interest of everyone’s safety, the camp would break before midnight to return the following day at 5pm. People cheered and raised fists in solidarity with one another. Day one of Camp Cascadia came to a close with a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction.
The following days progressed without the drama of confrontation. Park rangers were still present, and got to know the citizens of the Camp. While people passed the hours holding signs, passing out flyers, playing games, and enjoying the heat and sunshine, the ever-present rangers mingled about, engaging in casual conversation. It was actually these same rangers who informed the crowd of the verdict in the George Zimmerman murder trial. When they announced to the Camp that Zimmerman had been acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin, the news spread quickly, as did shock.
It was due to this verdict that I was personally unable to visit the Camp on Sunday, as a mass rally and march in outrage of the verdict took place in North Portland. From what I have heard, the Camp saw a somewhat smaller crowd than Friday, yet passersby continued to express support for the encampment.
With three days of successful occupation behind them, Camp Cascadia organizers decided to escalate the tone of their message. Word was spread that ‘Camp Cascadia: Round Monday’ would see the camp remaining after the midnight closure. Warned organizer Sponberg via the Willamette Week, “No kids tonight…do not bring them.”
The crowd grew slowly throughout the evening. People continuously asked each other what the plan was. Would there be a mad dash at midnight up the mountain to avoid police? Would there be a march to one of Chalie Hales’ several homes in nearby Westmoreland? Nobody seemed to know for sure.
At around 8pm as daylight began to fade, a talk show of sorts began. The regular venue for the weekly Fight Church TV variety program is Monday at Cadigan’s Corner. Tonight, it was Camp Cascadia. Host Jessie Sponberg featured several activists who had participated in the occupation, as well as microbiologist Scott Fernandez of BullRunWaiver.org, to speak about the importance of stopping the LT2 plan. As the evening progressed, more and more people continued to arrive.
Speculation on what would go down at midnight continued. Organizers periodically spoke with park rangers to maintain transparency, and to measure the response of law enforcement to the Camp staying past curfew. The number of police vehicles in the area gradually increased, though hidden mainly out of view of the Camp. Just minutes after midnight, Sponberg returned to the bullhorn to announce that the organizers of Camp Cascadia had chosen to remain in Mt. Tabor Park until 12:30am, effectively defying the city and police. After 12:30, however, police had demanded that the park be cleared, or arrests would be made.
Sponberg stated, however, that autonomous action apart from the Camp would be supported, but would be outside of consensus. After a bit of squabbling over the decision to leave the park, several individuals sat down and began to sing together ‘We Will Not Be Moved‘. News cameras illuminated the scene as rangers moved in to issue repeated warnings to the protesters – if they did not leave, they would be arrested. The gathered crowd numbered around 150 people, and cheers of support practically drowned out the singing. Several people standing on the sidewalk walked back into the park to shake the hands of the four who remained, pledging solidarity with them.
After about 15 minutes, a mass of some 40 police dressed in all black armed with long, wooden nightsticks marched in and surrounded the four protesters. The officers again repeated commands to leave the park. Civil disobedience prevailed, and as each of the four was handcuffed and dragged away, the crowd followed, shouting support and recording everything. Legal observers again took down the names and badge numbers of the arresting officers. Shortly after 1am, the police were gone, and the remaining crowd disapated. Several headed down the mountain to drink some well deserved pints of local brew.
While Charlie Hales remains steadfast in his refusal to request the LT2 waiver, the water warriors of Camp Cascadia are’t finished. In fact, they’re just getting started. The Camp plans to return periodically to continue conducting community outreach. Even more, it was just announced that a coalition of ratepayers and activists are moving forward with a referendum to take the water bureau away from the city and place it under the control of a public utility district.
Camp Cascadia was designed to catapult the issue of LT2 and the corruption behind this scheme into the public spotlight. That mission has been thoroughly accomplished. What comes next is a concentrated, persistent battle over the Rights to the City that belong to the people, not the politicians. The saga of Portland’s water wars will go on. Already, we are seeing the balance of power beginning to shift. If organizers continue to successfully gather friends and neighbors together over this issue, Charlie Hales is in for one serious headache.
See you in the streets.
For a full album of 120+ photos of Camp Cascadia, click HERE.
All photos and video copyright Hart Noecker, and may be used for noncommercial purposes with credit.