I arrived at Jamison Park on a rainy Sunday afternoon with concern that interviewable women might be hiding from the weather in their tents, but there were some milling about.
The first woman I spoke with was part of a man and woman team organizing an open mic poetry session. She didn’t know much but expressed disappointment that it was mostly men doing the speaking while men and women were sharing duties on practical matters like food preparation and providing information.
As if to prove the point, then I came across the info desk being staffed by a woman and we talked. Her perspective is that the inter-gender problems she’s seen have involved people bringing their personal problems to camp. “What used to be kept behind walls comes through tents,” she told me before suggesting I inquire at the med tent.
To get to the med tent I had to cross the street, and on the corner waiting with me for the light to change were two policewomen. I asked if they knew anything about the known sexual assault or other gendered violence, and one of them rather unhelpfully told me to go to the city website for information about “assaults against women and MEN.” The other policewoman repeated the suggestion that I ask at the med tent and pointed it out to me, and just in case I missed it the first time around First Cop reminded me that I can get information there about “crimes against women and MEN.”
At the med tent a man with a long and bushy white beard told me the camp is much calmer now than three weeks ago. Portland’s mild weather and abundance of social services has garnered it a larger than average homeless population, and some of the more mentally ill and alcoholic homeless men were being disruptive. Local soup kitchen Sisters of the Road will not serve noticeably drunk patrons so they were going to Occupy Portland’s kitchen and causing a ruckus. He explained that there are still a fair number of homeless people at the camp but the scary, violent ones had since been ejected.
Someone had donated mace and loud horns that the medical tent handed out to women who said they felt unsafe.
Santa Cause also said there was an incident about a week ago with a pregnant homeless woman getting beaten up by the baby’s father. The abuser was seen kicking the woman in the stomach and her face was scratched up. She is still at the camp but he hasn’t been seen for a week, and word had gotten out that he was a known perpetrator and would be ejected if seen again.
There is a tent designated with a sign as the “Sexual Assault Response Team” but when I inquired about it he didn’t have much information. All he knew was that the one woman whose effort it seemed to be was barely there. On a small dry erase board was the woman’s name and a request for sexual assault volunteers, but there has been no response to my email four days later. I get the sense that a few people are trying to form an organized response but they haven’t had much support.
Next I headed for the Food Not Bombs tent to drop off the sack of apples I’d brought and to speak with the two women running that show. The talkative one said she stumbled across a meeting of women some days ago and thought they might have been having regular meetings, but didn’t know more than that. By day’s end I couldn’t find any postings or announcements about such a group, and I really, really looked. She also expressed disappointment that while other radical media outlets in Portland had an Occupy presence, local women’s bookstore In Other Words was MIA along with the city’s Radical Women socialist group.
My final noteworthy interviews were with two young women hanging out behind the makeshift kitchen. One of them had been there that early day when the rape was reported, and her impression was that the community response was surprisingly quick. “Dealing with that was prioritized at a chaotic time when a lot of construction was going on,” was her take on it. She had just been in Oakland and said that both there and in Portland far more men are taking the public megaphone than women.
Our interview was interrupted by a young woman who had been cleaning the kitchen for the past ten minutes. She came over and calmly said with an air of exhaustion, “There’s a lot of vegetables over there that need to be turned into something.” The less talkative of the pair reacted with a completely unnecessary and haughty, “I don’t react well to being ordered. It’s oppressive, and personally I just don’t respond well to that. If you want to ask me to do something I’ll consider it, but don’t order me around.”
The weary worker asked in a conciliatory tone, “Did you feel that I was ordering you?”
“Yes I did.”
“Well I’m just saying there’s vegetables over there. I mean, I don’t care because I cleaned and now I’m done but anyway…”
Ah, the familiar smell of horizontal hostility. Awkwardness aside, to their credit the two of them de-comforted from their chairs and we said our goodbyes as they headed to the kitchen.
Sam Berg, 11/3/2011
Samantha Berg is National Coordinator for the feminist organization Stop
Porn Culture and founder of http://www.Genderberg.com, an anti-prostitution
activist community since 2005. Her newest website is www.Johnstompers.com