It was just after 10 am Nov. 10 when Mayor Sam Adams announced he wanted Lownsdale and Chapman squares cleared and would close them to the public by midnight two days later. Inside the camp, Occupiers moved from rage to euphoria to despair.
After the news, more than 100 people descended on City Hall, which went into lockdown. Some Occupiers wheeled their valuables—generators, coolers, a massage chair—out of the parks, while others concocted plans for a potluck and dance party timed to the midnight deadline Nov. 12. Others went shopping for office space they could rent to help keep the movement alive.
The one thing they agreed on: They would not leave their parks willingly.
It was clear that police were concerned about a confrontation. They were told by some Occupiers that people in the camps had dug trenches and built an arsenal of rocks, boards with nails and shields made of wooden pallets.
Other Occupiers put the word out for people to come downtown and help defend their camp. They used their website and Twitter, and even printed fliers that they pasted on MAX trains.
On Saturday night, Nov. 12, the parks and surrounding streets filled with people, most of whom had never been to the Occupy Portland camp before. Many poured out of bars to watch what might happen. Bicyclists calling themselves “The Swarm” pedaled around the parks. A drum circle made up of people beating on white plastic buckets formed in the middle of Southwest 3rd Avenue. Protesters climbed the iconic Main Street elk statue to pose for pictures and kiss. One man atop the elk played a French horn.
At midnight, the crowd counted down the seconds from 10, as if it were New Year’s Eve. At the mayor’s deadline, there were more people in the parks than ever before. It was a party.
The police didn’t show up in riot gear until around 1:30 am, when they formed a line along Main Street across 3rd Avenue from the parks. Five officers rode in on horses. Someone tossed a burning object and spooked a couple of the horses. Someone else threw an open pocket knife and hit a cop in the helmet. One protester was pepper sprayed; another was arrested.
Eventually, police moved down 3rd Avenue and took up position at the intersection with Madison Street. Some protesters shouted in the officers’ faces. But others were too jovial to remain confrontational for long. One man shouted, “We love you!” Then he yelled, “We love you especially!” to a blond female officer. She smirked.
The air smelled of the apple-cider vinegar protesters had used to soak their bandanas to combat a potential tear-gas assault from the police.
The standoffs in the streets lasted for more than four hours. Occupiers served coffee in the middle of 3rd Avenue, pouring from vacuum pots at the feet of riot police. The crowd chanted, “This is what democracy looks like!” and “You’re sexy, you’re cute, take off your riot suit!” to the endless beat of white plastic bucket drums.
At 6 am, a voice from the loudspeaker on top of a police van broke into the noise:
“Good morning. Please move back into Chapman Square.” The announcer told everyone the police wanted to clear the street for traffic.
The crowd complied, the cops soon turned and left, and it seemed like victory. People hugged and filed back into Chapman Square through a human canopy of linked hands. Buckets of Voodoo doughnuts arrived, a bicycle boombox played Michael Jackson and the Black Eyed Peas, and people danced.