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Soap Bubbles, Pepper Spray and Rubber Bullets Mingle With Portland's Patriotic Protesters
Kat L'Estrange

I was present at the protest in Portland. When I arrived around 4:45 PM, the crowd was around 1,500 or so. A friend who was there earlier in the day, around 3 PM PDT, said she thought the crowd was around 3,000 plus -- many different groups were represented, environmental, union, minorities for labor, anti-globalization, etc.

The pepper spray incident appeared to be unprovoked. I was standing at the barricade half a block up from 6th and Taylor approximately three to five minutes before the crowd was sprayed, and all seemed fine. One protestor was blowing soap bubbles toward the riot police in full riot gear. The crowd was laughing, chanting, and seemed to be interacting with the police asking them to lighten up.

I walked away to find a way around the barricade moving pretty freely through the group of protestors. As I turned the corner away from the barricade, I heard the crowd screaming behind me and turned to see a wall of people running toward me. I ducked into a bus stop overhang and watched with great sadness as mothers carried crying children away from the scene. I thought perhaps the abrupt crowd movement scared them too. At that point, I did not realize the crowd had been sprayed.

I walked back through the crowd then at 6th and Taylor, and four police cars with sirens blaring came racing up Taylor into the crowd in the blocked off intersection. Several women were yelling into the cars and a few protestors actually jumped on the cars. I stood on the sidewalk watching in amazement. The next thing I heard were shots being fired; I think two or three. I voiced concern to a young man who said his mother had phoned him several times to make sure he was okay. He mentioned to me the crowd had been pepper sprayed. We couldn't believe the peaceful protest had been so deserving of this treatment by Portland police.

It didn't take long for the police cars to disappear, however, and the curious protestors once again filled the intersection. Most protestors were still gagging from the smell; it was a very unpleasant. Faces were covered with bandanas and some others were prepared with gas masks. And again, the protest continued peacefully, only now there were those in the crowd and those off to the side in bus stop benches, some crying having been burned with the pepper spray evidently. I saw one woman douse a man's face with water from his scalp down to his neck to probably help alleviate the burning. People seemed puzzled. I certainly was.

Walking up Taylor from the other side, what sounded like a marching band with a smaller group of protestors, joined the larger group much to the crowd's delight! Turned out to be a few drummers with what looked like "Beat Bush Back" on the side of a big bass drum and several smaller ones. For awhile, the drummers drummed and we clapped and chanted "George Bush is a son of a bitch." I can't tell you how uplifting that was! Some people were dancing. A woman walked by holding up a couple of the rubber bullets she had found eager to tell everybody the police had fired them at the protestors. She had a small child strapped to her chest.

I noticed standing right in the middle of the intersection surrounded by protestors two men who evidently had different politics. One carried a big sign that read, "This group does not represent all of Oregon." He was standing next to another man wearing a shirt that read, "It's patriotic to turn your friend in," which referred to the TIPS project. I commented to another person how I would probably not do what they were doing, and the response I got was, "They have first amendment rights too." Absolutely, and I mention it to make it clear that I saw no hostility being directed toward these two men, or any other protestors. It was an informed crowd and that was apparent by the signs they carried: "NOW we're pissed," "Corporate Whore," "Stop the WAR before its too late," "Save our forests," "It's the economy stupid," etc.

I stepped out of the intersection as more riot police arrived behind the barricade and off to the sidewalk speaking briefly with a soft-spoken older man from the Sierra Club who held a sign that read, "Gordon Smith, protect our water." We talked a bit about Senate Bill 1961 and the backdoor plan to privatize our water, a bill that is co-sponsored by Oregon Senator Gordon Smith. I asked him if he saw what had happened with the pepper spray. He said it was nothing but melodrama and very unnecessary, and that the crowd was not warned.

The crowd and drummers began to march out of the intersection and the one man I mentioned with a different political perspective walked by. I said to him I thought he was brave to be out and about. He mentioned to me it was no fun being pepper sprayed. I agreed.

We marched around the block in between cars and covered the sidewalks chanting to the beat of the big drum before coming to rest again at police barricades a block away. For 10 minutes or so we managed to wave our signs and yell, "George Bush, you suck!" Again, there was something very powerful about hearing hundreds, maybe a thousand or so all clapping and voicing our dissent. We wanted badly for Bush to hear, but had to settle for those in neighboring businesses, unsuspecting passersby, the police squad and what was probably secret police observing out of highrises.

I faded back into the crowd and left the protest at around 6 PM PDT. There were still people joining the protestors as I walked away. Two blocks from the protest, it was difficult to even tell a crowd was there. I got in my car and traveled out to have dinner with my friend and her family before heading home.

On the way, I turned on the local radio news and heard a lot of hype and things that I just didn't see while at the protest. From what I could tell, this was a peaceful, yet at times spirited protest and I was glad to hear one caller say exactly that! She lambasted the talk show host for painting it as something violent when people were just voicing dissent, and that there was absolutely nothing wrong with that. She asked him to stop minimizing the voice of the people -- several thousand strong -- who just don't like George Bush or his policies -- by labeling the protest as "violent."

And then came the analysis of what Bush was saying inside the Hilton to adoring supporters at a fundraiser that made Oregon history by being the most profitable fundraiser ever. Gordon Smith's campaign is 1 million dollars richer, and as activists and concerned citizens we better not forget it if we hope to oust him from the US Senate.