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November 16th, 2011 12:01 am AARON MESH, HANNAH HOFFMAN | News Stories

The Fall of the 420 Hotel

In the final hours of Occupy Portland, there was mud, a riot squad and a speckled rooster.

news2-occupypdxeviction_3802LAST GASP: The crowd in Occupy Portland’s last hours. - IMAGE: vivianjohnson.com
The final rumor to sweep through the ruins of Occupy Portland inflamed the holdouts in the 420 Hotel. 

“They killed a puppy!” screamed a young man with a scraggly goatee and a black Army jacket. “They killed a blind puppy!”

The rumor went like this: The police, busy clearing the camp that morning, Nov. 13, had tossed a tent with the puppy still inside into a green dumpster.

No one knew who owned the puppy. No one saw it happen. It probably wasn’t even true. But the rumor panicked and infuriated the people in and around the fortified tent. 

During the Occupation, its official name was the Relaxation Tent, but people nicknamed it the 420 Hotel, after the slang phrase for marijuana. In a camp where residents created new identities, the young people in the 420 Hotel were the camp’s roughnecks, its extremists. Most wore handmade clothing or hooded sweatshirts. They were the ones who brought their own gas masks. 

Since 3 am Sunday, they had been reinforcing the tent with pallets and thick hardwood tables. They draped an Oregon state flag outside and painted “Repo This” on one wall. It was a challenge to the police who would soon come to get them. It looked like a clubhouse.

The people in the 420 Hotel saw their battlements as a declaration of their right not only to stay in the park, but to exist as they chose. They saw the Occupy Portland leaders as capitulators for talking to the police, agreeing to terms of surrender and fleeing with their kitchen supplies and precious library before hell broke loose.

In the short and difficult history of Occupy Portland, the 420 Hotel came to represent the movement’s incoherent defiance.

IMAGE: vivianjohnson.com

The Occupy movement set out to bring attention to poverty, homelessness, big banks, Wall Street and other social ills that pitted the rich against the rest of us.

It began Oct. 6 when an estimated 10,000 people marched through the city, and a small group took up residence in Chapman and Lownsdale squares. In its final hours, 38 days later, Occupy Portland saw about 4,000 people stage a rally in the early morning of Nov. 13 to prevent police from clearing away the hundreds of tents in the camp.

In between, however, the Occupy Portland leadership became mired in process and debate while the camp became a haven for the homeless, drug addicts and violent street kids. The leaders never found their public voice, nor a direction in which to take their cause.

By the morning of Sunday, Nov. 13, the leaders of this economic protest had left. So had most of the homeless. The defenders of the 420 Hotel took the movement in the only direction they could see: against the police, who had suddenly appeared in black-armored riot gear along the edges of the park.


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