Did the economic and social upheaval of the early 2010s set the table for the now commonplace convulsions of street violence between the left and the right in summertime Portland?
The answer — like everything — is complicated.
Portland's strain of the Occupy movement arrived just days after the first tents were pitched in Zuccotti Park in New York City's Financial District on Sept. 17, 2011. On Oct. 6, in Portland, some 10,000 marched through Pioneer Courthouse Square, with the most dedicated activists setting up shelters along the Park Blocks and near City Hall.
Just 38 days later, at the order of then Mayor Sam Adams, the camps were cleared — but not before the Rose City cemented its place in the imagination of radicals and change agents across the country.
Yet it seems a far cry from the political violence of today's Portland — where a loosely knit collective of black-clad anti-fascists challenge smaller bands of flag-wielding conservatives, most notably lead by Patriot Prayer's Joey Gibson.
The answer may be that Occupy functioned as a big tent: roomy enough for anarchists, communists, Ron Paul libertarians, liberals, cop-watchers, Cascadia secessionists and the populist right.
"It would have been entirely natural for Joey Gibson to have gone to Occupy Wall Street," said Alexander Reid Ross, the author of "Against the Fascist Creep" and a Portland State University Ph.D. candidate. "It was really an economic protest against a liberal black president."
Portland's anti-fascists, often called antifa, didn't become a larger force until the riots of 2016 — when a Republican took control of the White House.
The short-lived Occupy ICE demonstrations against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in June 2018, tried to recapture the spirit of the original Occupy movement, but weren't able to uproot an entrenched federal bureaucracy.
Ross said the Occupy movement was always "deliberately ambiguous," an attempt to reclaim public space and to create an egalitarian society from scratch. It wasn't just police, but the participants themselves who ended up tearing the movement apart.
"The fatal fissures within Occupy produced the popular expressions of rage," Ross said, "that are now pitted against one another."
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