Sunday, June 10, 2012

Occupy Portland: How and Will it Be Resolved?

By Lisa Bauman
One conflict that poses many questions in my mind is the Occupy Portland movement which shares a simular ideology with Occupy Wall Street. Their website identifies the protesters as part of "the 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%." This statement is a reference to the widely circulated statistic that 1% of Americans control 40% of the country's wealth. Despite the fact that this group has offered no platforms or policies for reform, it has gained much support as evidenced by the protests that occur in the city of Portland (Blanchard).

The problem with this situation is that protestors have vague demands that point to the Federal government while the protests impact and harm the safety and economic stability of Portland at the state level. The people suffering from the violence of the protestors have little power to grant their demands and the protestors seem unsure of what their own demands really are. For example, downtown's Chapman and Lownsdale squares were "occupied" by about 500 supporters who slept, created art, and speechified on the squares for 38 days. This one demonstration burdened Portland taxpayers a whopping $116,770 and no progress was made for the demands of the movement (Saker).
The first step to resolving conflict is to assess the problem. We can clearly see that there are many levels to this issue - state, local, and country. We also see that the issue has already elevated to violence. Fisher and Ury would suggest a little detective work here (pages 62, 78, and 79). We need to ask Portland's officials and the officials of the movement lots of questions. We need to brainstorm. Without understanding the needs of both sides, it is difficult to come to reconciliation.

Our goal in reconciliation is to end violence, overcome polarization by correlating accounts, manage contradiction, and reconstitute relations by celebrating differences (Ramsbothan, Woodhouse, and Miall, pg. 247). We must "increase the range of situations where violence is not a possibility - that is to create a condition where there are stable expectations of peaceful change (Ramsbothan, Woodhouse, and Miall, pg. 126)."
Mayor Sam Adams, center, is flanked by Portland Police as he walks to city hall Monday, Nov. 14, 2011, in Portland, Ore. Adams defended his order to clear the Occupy Portland encampment, saying it is his job to enforce the law and keep the peace. Police finished cleaning up the area Monday, and officials reported no major disturbances. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
Creating a peaceful situation would seem to be fairly simple because the Occupy Portland movement and the city of Portland could mutually benefit with a little cooperation. If protestors could move off of the battlefields of the public parks and into the arena of news conferences and city offices to work in union with members of public officials, voices would be heard and solutions could be reached over time.  This option seems to create a mutual benefit as suggested in "Getting to Yes (Fisher and Ury, pg. 62)". Still, to claim this strategy we would be underestimating inter-class bias. By defining themselves as the 99%, protestors have delineated themselves in thought from government authorities. Without a word spoken, this ideology has already set itself at war with Portland.

What now? Our text suggests creating peacekeeping activities as a way to contain violent conflicts such as the Occupy Portland movement (Ramsbothan, Woodhouse, and Miall, pg. 162-164). I believe that the Portland police and policies have tried to do this. They provided a location and safety patrols for protestors at the Chapman and Lownsdale squares and no impartiality was made for protestors for violations of law.  Still, the protestors continue to draw resources from the citizens of Portland and demands of the protestors remain unmet.
Unfortunately it seems that this issue might temporarily solve itself while Portland remains in a state of BATA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement) in an effort to reduce the impact of this conflict (Fisher and Ury, pg. 104). The movement's main leaders/organizers are students, recent graduates, or long-time members who have left. Without any real direction or set of firm desires, the movement may eventually fizzle out (Cooke).

Rep. Shawn Lindsay, R-Hillsboro (left), talks with Occupy demonstrator Imre Ilves of Portland at the state capitol in Salem. Benjamin Brink/The Oregonian
My suggestion is that Portland remain using the strategy of BATA as protestor support fizzles. As violence becomes less extreme, more peace building and relationship building can occur. Officials should volunteer public forums to understand positions. Conversations should continue. Objective standards should be set that both sides have determined is fair. Open pathways for communication should be set and eventually violence should be considered as not a possibility.

WORKS CITED
Blanchard, David. "Occupy Portland." OPB: Think Outloud. Oregon Public Broadcasting, 10/4/2011. Web. 10 Jun 2012. <http://www.opb.org/thinkoutloud/shows/occupy-portland/>.

Cooke, Shamus. "The Way Forward for Occupy Portland." Dick and Sharon's LA Progressive. Dick Price and Sharon Kyle , 02/01/2012. Web. 10 Jun 2012. <http://www.laprogressive.com/occupy-portland-2/>.

Fisher, Roger and Ury, William "Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In" (New York: Penguin Books, 1983).

Ramsbotham, Oliver, Tom Woodhouse, and Hugh Miall. Contemporary Conflict Resolution. 3rd. Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2011. Print.

Saker, Anne. "Chapman, Lownsdale squares see post-Occupy Portland fences come down ." Oregon Live. The Oregonian , 01/07/2012. Web. 10 Jun 2012. <http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2012/05/in_downtown_portland_post-occu.html>.


** For Com301U, Intro to Conflict Resolution, Portland State University, Spring Term, April 2012