Saturday afternoon, demonstrators from #OccupyPortland marched from their downtown encampment to The Pearl, the Rose City’s rehabbed warehouse quarter dotted with upscale glass towers, boutiques, graceful parks and quaint streetcars. We happened to be sitting outside at Lovejoy Bakery at the corner of 10th Avenue, one block from Tanner Springs Park, as #OccupyPortland arrived.
They voiced their familiar call-and-response chants — “Tell Me What Democracy Looks Like: This is What Democracy Looks Like!” and “They Got Bailed Out: We Got Sold Out!” as they waited for permission from the bicycle police officers to cross the street and head down 10th Avenue to Jamison Square. We waved from across the street as cars honked their approval and early trick-or-treaters stared and asked parents “What’s that, Mommy?”
The demonstrators were extremely well-behaved, not blocking traffic or pedestrians, waving their signs about thieving banks and corrupt politicians. Suddenly, I was aware of an angry presence directly behind me. A middle-aged man, dressed in Saturday Pearl attire of LL Bean and J Crew, was standing on the curb directly over my shoulder, yelling at the top of his voice across the street at the #Occupiers.
“Get out of The Pearl — we’re raising children here!”
“You’re on meth!”
“Drugs out of The Pearl!”
He was hopping up and down now, screaming and pointing at specific protesters.
“Hey, you’re on acid!”
“Don’t bring your filth into our neighborhood — we’re family people!”
I never actually turned around fully to look at him at this point, but the best way I can describe his verbal attacks on these peaceful protesters is red-faced and spittle-flecked. And now the couple seated at the cafe table on the other side of us were smiling at him approvingly. She was wearing a tall pink witch’s hat and he was dressed similarly to the Raging Man. I was smiling at them, meaning “Get a load of this idiot trying to cause trouble!”
At this point, Raging Man escalated his yells, gesturing at protesters to cross the street. They looked at him uncomprehendingly.
“You want a piece of this? You wanna fight me?”
“Come right over here and say that!”
No one had engaged him directly at this point, but he was shaking his fists and hopping up and down, continuing his nasty personal attacks on the protesters’ alleged drug use, mothers’ habits, and hygiene. The protesters filed past on the opposite sidewalk, bemused at his invective and personal investment in their message.
The couple near our table stood up, walked toward us and said, “I really think these protesters are undercutting their own message! They don’t really know how to protest or get their message out very well!” I was laughing pretty hard at Raging Man at this point, and turned to Patrick and said, too loudly not to be overheard by all three:
“Well, I really think it’s amazing that the Aristocrats in our society have convinced people to get so angry at protesters with legitimate complaints about the 1%. The Oligarchs have got their message out pretty well when these regular middle class folks defend predatory lending, greedy banking and co-opting of our government.”
Pink witch hat lady, startled to discover the tastefully dressed homosexuals eating French pastries on her side of the street were, in fact, infiltrators who endorsed the message of the 99%. She looked askance at us and moved closer to her companion. She glanced at our fellow customers, aware suddenly that the signifiers she’d relied on to compartmentalize people around her were not accurate.
Raging Man was still hopping up and down, shaking his fists at the tail end of the demonstrators crossing under the direction of the bicycle police accompanying the protest, who had themselves taken notice of his tone and demeanor. Still on their bikes, they glided to the edge of the protest to position themselves in a protective flank alongside the demonstrators, whose safety they were clearly concerned about in the presence of this middle-class madman.
It was of concern to the police that Raging Man might dart across the road to directly confront some of the tag end of the demonstrators, like a mad predator would pick off the weak, lame and young of a herd. More police were watching him intently, and the negative energy and anger just boiled off of him onto the sidewalk on our side. He was mad with rage about this peaceful march through his neighborhood, attacking his Oligarchs. This slightly ragtag bunch of “hippies” challenged the foundation of his world view.
He yelled some more about drugs, kids, hygiene. Something about how society couldn’t survive without banks made me laugh out loud. The other customer in the pink witch hat made a comment about how ‘certain elements’ shouldn’t be permitted free reign of our streets, which made me wish I could say something clever about the Salem witch trials right then.
Probably one or two paychecks away from utter economic catastrophe, homelessness, and hardship themselves, these representatives of the 53% of people who claim to be carrying the rest of us were sad, scared and lonely. And here in their midst, come to their safe upscale neighborhood, were the 99%. And the approved reaction was to screech and harangue and challenge them to fisticuffs with language better suited to the right-wing nutjob radio programs. It was as if Rush Limbaugh had filled Raging Man full of invective while Cokie Roberts had provided Watch Hat Lady and her companion with Approved Talking Points.
And we were surrounded by it, sitting at our table with our croissants and hot chocolate, laughing at them! The demonstrators moved on, our dining companions drifted away, and Raging Man moved down the street, still afraid to engage #Occupy on their side of the street. It was poignant to realize how heartfelt his objections were, how threatened he felt about their message, how offended he was by their presence, all the while equally subject to the 1%’s uncaring and predatory treatment.
It was a perfect example of the aspirational 53% who want so badly to be 1% that they’ll defend the Oligarchs against the truth chanted by their own natural allies. These people, represented on the street yesterday by Raging Man, cannot see their own natural affinity with the 99%. And so they scream and holler their allegiance to the 1%, thinking that they’ll be admitted to the club if they defend “their” team in the street.
When, actually — to the Oligarchs — they are all just street rabble yelling at one another, to be ignored and belittled and crushed beneath their boots when necessary. All of them cogs in The Owners’ machine, some more aware of their role as indebted serfs than others.