I’ll have more to say about some of the other meetups just completed (Chicago, Green Bay, San Francisco, and Seattle), since I learned a lot at each of them. However, quite a lot happened at the Portland one, plus reader Andrew Watts showed up my tardiness by providing his own write up of the event.
The short version is my hotel reservation had been cancelled when there were literally no other rooms in Portland to be had, which led me to arrive late and considerably frazzled to the event. My fallback would have been to leave the meetup early and go to Seattle, where the hotel where I was booked for the next night had space. But readers volunteered to put me up, and my host, reader Thomas, gave me a tour of Occupy ICE.
The other important development was that Charlotte, whose husband and daughter were also there, volunteered to hold a meetup in Salem in their very large and attractive yard, in the hope of perhaps attracting readers from Eugene. Enough people in attendance said they were interested for Charlotte and her family to go ahead, probably in the early fall. So stay tuned!
I’d thought my afternoon was going well. Plane landed on schedule. I arrived at my hotel, the Mark Spencer, with what I’d thought was enough time to check in and be able to get to the meetup without any rush or drama.
It was not a good sign when I was dropped off and discovered that there was not porter and guests were expected to haul their bags up a flight of stairs on their own to get to the lobby. I have a bad ankle sprain and a hip injury, so this was a non-starter. I managed to get someone to help me but was already in an upset.
The receptionist told me I had no reservation and the hotel was fully booked. I had originally booked for two nights, the night before and the night of the meetup, but had decided to stay an extra day in San Francisco and only one night in Portland. The Mark Spencer site did not allow for nights to be removed from an existing reservation. I thought I had called to cancel out the first night, but they obviously didn’t think so.1
So now I am really stuck.
To his credit, the receptionist refunded my no-show charge (a full night’s room charge) and spent, no joke, 35 minutes trying to find me a room. The only thing he could find that he deemed to be OK after a lot of web searching was the Holiday Inn at the airport. But he couldn’t book for same day online, he had to call a call center. He got someone not very good because it took her forever to take the information. Then she put him on hold for five minutes while the system rebooted. She came back on the line to tell him the room was gone.
The receptionist got the number for the hotel itself and called them directly. They confirmed they had no rooms.
He said my next option was a Motel Six, which he clearly regarded as skanky. I was at that point already ten minutes after the meetup start time. I schlepped my bags (this time down an elevator to a back entrance) where it took nearly ten minutes to get a taxi. I first called Kells to tell them I was the host of a group and to announce I was late due to a mess at a hotel and was en route (that apparently did not happen). I then my hotel in Seattle and Delta re going to Seattle that evening. That would work but I’d have to leave the meetup before 7:00 PM to make the flight.
I got to Kells after 5:30 PM (peak time traffic in Portland is slow!) and there were 35+ people there having a fine time. I dumped my bags, announced my lack of a room problem and asked if anyone had any pull with hotels. Several people offered to put me up. The most sensible option seemed to be Tom, a trim fellow in his 30s who was relatively nearby and said he and his wife had a spare bedroom. I asked if it was OK with her. He said she was an ER nurse, she was used to rolling with the unexpected.
I sat at a long table (where Charlotte from Salem was sitting and offered to host a meetup) and someone pointed out that Oregoncharles was sitting at a different table and some people wanted to know where he was. Since I knew Gaius was there too and other readers might want to track him down, I spoke up again and had everyone introduce themselves (this is not normal meetup protocol), including their handle if they commented. Not surprisingly, we had a fair representation of computer industry professionals (including two Cobol programmers), as well as people in landscaping (it seemed like architects as well as workers), professors, a lawyer, a food industry worker, teachers, an economist, and retirees (forgive me if I missed your profession).
Additions from Andrew Watts’ recap:
After that we began introductions and it was during this time I realized how many lurkers there are in the comments section. During my introduction I got some laughs when I ended it with “…and if I’ve ever offended you by one of my comments I just wanted to say I’m sorry NOW!”. The funniest and crowd-pleasing introduction was by somebody who claimed they became aware of Naked Capitalism thanks to ProporNot. The crowd skewed older and professional but there were a few other working class stiffs and there were even a few other millennials there.
One of the poignant points that Yves made to everyone before people began circulating was how things have changed. Everybody’s tempers are now on a shorter fuse. Undoubtedly this is due to recent events and the increasingly stressful environment we are living in. I was surprised to find out that Yves had spent some time growing up in an area of rural Oregon close to where I had lived and still have connections. Another instance where I discovered previously unknown connections occurred when one of the people who came to talk to me mentioned that his company was financing my employer’s expansion. I was momentarily taken aback by this knowledge as I wasn’t aware that the board had any financing.
It started to get late and I said goodbye to Yves at 8:30 PM who was still tirelessly holding court. I asked her what she thought the next crisis was going to look like while mentioning parallels to the previous financial crisis involving the yen and dollar carry trade and she said she’d probably write a post about what she thought. The short version is she doesn’t think there will necessarily be a financial crisis and an economic one instead.
Kells has a fairly diverse clientele for a downtown bar with everything ranging from hipsters and Timbers fans to older regulars. The restaurant area was louder then the bar which amusingly caused quite a few bar patrons to see what the commotion was about. Overall it was a lot of fun and I’m not the kind of person that enjoys these kind of gatherings. It was great meeting fellow commenters and lurkers alike. If you have an opportunity to attend one of these meet-ups I encourage fellow introverts to attend.
I will confirm that Kells was a very good venue. The room did get noisy but that was by virtue of it being reflective and our group being large and talkative. We had ample space and the staff was reasonably prompt with taking and delivering orders given the size of the crowd.
Tom, Helen, and the Field Trip to Occupy ICE
Tom had been in the National Guard when he was in college and then served for five years in Afghanistan. He was involved in intelligence (not Snowden-type but target identification). I don’t think he harbors any illusions about the US military.
Tom’s wife Helen went to Africa to treat Ebola. I wish I had been alert enough to figure out how to ask her about it, but the things you’d really want to know are ugly: “How many of your colleagues died? How did you handle it? Weren’t you afraid every time you treated someone who you though was infected? How did you deal with patients who were dying?”
Tom had wanted to join MSF so he and Helen could work together, but MSF (unlike the US military) won’t make postings that keep married couples together.
Tom took me to Occupy ICE on the way to his home. His wife Helen had volunteered to help in the medic’s tent and Tom knew some of the regulars.2
The encampment is at the site of the Southwest Portland U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement holding facility. One bone of contention is that ICE leases the facility from the City of Portland, and protestors have called for the city to revoke the lease. The mayor’s office has said it can’t do anything even though the protestors claim that ICE is violating the terms of the lease by holding some immigrants overnight.
My visit was in the late evening, so few people were out. However, there is a police car stationed at the intersection in front of the ICE operation, blocking an access road to a main street. The policeman on duty seemed awfully aggressive. As Tom and I walked back to his parked car, the cop yelled at an approaching car which didn’t seem about to do anything untoward, “If you turn that way [onto the access road his car was partly blocking], I’ll shoot you in the head.”
Occupy ICE took up residence about a month ago. It sought to keep lawyers and employees prosecuting deportations from getting into the building and apparently did succeed in preventing ICE workers from going home (see this Guardian story for more detail). Tom said they seemed unable to recognize the irony of their complaints that they were being kept from their families. I’m not sure I have the exact chronology, but I believe this led to the breaking up of the occupation on June 28, which included eight arrests.
After that, the two sides settled into an unfriendly co-habitation. ICE put some men toting guns on its roof to try to intimidate the protestors. I now forget the gun names, but apparently the ICE employees were displaying weapons suitable only for mass shootings, not for sniping, when ICE doing an imitation of the Vegas shooting would not be a PR winner. Occupy ICE sent drones to spy on the gunmen, and determined the weapons were not fit for the only justifiable purpose and leaning against walls. After the drone visits, ICE took its men off the roof.
There were plastic pup tents lined up near the walls of the ICE building, with more rows closer to the entrance. There were four Porta-Potties, one of which was paid for by a sympathetic group, the rest by Occupy ICE. There are 50-60 people there at night, most of them homeless. The encampment was tidy. The medics’ tent had three people staffing it, and it looked well supplied. There is also a library with about 50 books.
I noticed that the tents had extremely bright lights turned on them. Tom said that was recent and agreed with my take, that they were intended to harass the protestors.
Since my short visit, Occupy ICE attracted a counter-protest which appears to have been uneventful.
I’m dubious of both the strategy and the aims. Arab Spring revolts succeeded in the narrow sense by occupying central squares and being able to bring a great deal of official and commercial activity to a standstill. Occupy Wall Street, even though it did not have enough participants to immobilize lower Manhattan, drove the officialdom nuts by having the good fortune to have settled upon a space where the city’s rights to oust the squatters was vastly weaker than if they’d tried staying overnight in a city park. The Occupy Wall Street encampment also fronted two major traffic arteries and was hard by major subway stops. In other words, a high percentage of Wall Street workers would encounter the protests on their rounds.
By contrast, the Portland ICE occupation, and I assume most if not all of its brethren in other cities are not in central locations, and hence don’t do much in the way of reminding locals of the questionable methods of the department. And the occupation would not be difficult to clear out.
As for the objectives, here are the demands of Occupy ICE PDX:
That the ICE facility and Ice operations be removed from the city of Portland
That children separated from their families be returned and receive adequate healthcare
That the US cease incarcerating asylum seekers
That ICE be totally abolished
The last one, of abolishing ICE, is unsound. Like Brexit, it means different things to different people. Some “abolish ICE” proponents want open borders, while others want more local control over deportations and more immigrant-frienldy policies. The people who want to get rid of ICE need to say what they want in its stead. Otherwise, the Trump Administration is entirely capable of replacing it with an even more immigrant-hostile agency.
Tom and Helen went to more trouble than they needed to for me and I am very grateful for their generosity. Helen ran out and got coffee and yogurt; Tom drove me to the airport. Tom is thinking about career options. He could get a law degree but wants to advance social justice and is interested in other options. I wish I could give him guidance.
1 On the one hand, I could be hallucinating, particularly since I didn’t have a cancellation number and I usually make a point of getting them. On the other, while I was with the receptionist, another person seated behind the reception desk at a computer asked the receptionist for help with canceling out a day of an existing reservation, meaning it was clear the system made that hard to do.
2 I will probably leave readers of all sorts unhappy by saying I don’t have a clear point of view on immigration, since I don’t regard merely pointing out problems with the current system as an adequate position. You need to have remedies too, otherwise you merely create opportunities for at best cosmetic changes being touted as reforms, or worse “reforms” that make things worse for lots of people and/or create more opportunities for private sector grifting. And there’s been a death of policy proposals, let alone sound-sounding ones. Having said that, I’m not a fan of open borders. Among other things, it would increase the opportunities to abuse non-citizen migrants; by contrast, the old bracero program imposed labor standards on employers of migrant farm workers). At the same time, the handling of immigrants has become to a significant degree a profit opportunity for the prison industrial complex, which had led to unduly rough treatment of immigrants, including prolonged detentions on a questionable basis. That cans and should be made to stop.