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November 30th, 2011 12:01 am CASEY JARMAN | Cover Story

Progress Without Pepper Spray

How a burger baron, four indie rockers, a bleeding-heart Muslim and a group of trash tour guides are fighting for the 99%.

lede_banksy_3804Banksy reproduction by WW Staff
The air is hot and humid in the Portland Building’s dimly lit second-floor auditorium. A mix of flannel-clad twentysomethings, long-haired retirees and fussy neighborhood-watch types have filled the space, spilling into the aisles where some sit cross-legged on the floor with messenger bags in their laps. 

They’re here to learn more about Occupy Portland: How it started, what it means and, perhaps most important, where it’s going. It has been about 48 hours since the last vestiges of the encampments in the parks across the street were torn down, with cops and city workers carting off wet nylon by the truckload and encircling the dead leaves with barbed-wire-topped fencing. 

Tonight’s program is a 90-minute “teach-in” presented by the Dill Pickle Club—a city club for the iPhone generation—and it features teachers, Occupiers and press. Veronica Dujon, a fortysomething Portland State University sociology professor with a tight brown turtleneck and lilting Caribbean accent, is the most engaging of the group.

Veronica Dujon speaks at the 99% teach-in

“People are responding in the way they know how to,” she tells an enraptured crowd. “It happens in Argentina, it happens in Bolivia, it happens in Brazil...and every time it happens, those who would prefer the status quo or those who do not understand the movement are quick to try and contain it.”

After the presenters wrap up, a handful of audience members dart to a lonely microphone for the obligatory Q&A session. What happens, mostly, is bloviating—some of it passionate, some of it painfully disjointed.

“I go to a health club where I had a screaming argument with [City Commissioner] Nick Fish once,” says Jeremy, a stocky middle-aged agitator in stiff brown Carhartts pants who rambles on without asking a question. “Well, he didn’t yell back, he just walked away.”

Suddenly, a well-curated teach-in becomes a microcosm for the same criticisms Occupy detractors love to point out: The movement’s tent is too big, its fringe is too readily embraced. And now it has been evicted. In cities where Occupy is now less a physical presence than a collection of big ideas, some wonder where to look for the seeds of revolution that seemed to be sprouting two months ago. In Portland, it’s not hard to find stories about regular people working to solve some of the problems that Occupy Portland spotlighted. Here are four of them.

The problem: Big businesses—especially fast-food chains—rob money from the local economy, ruin the environment and often exacerbate our country’s health problems.
A solution: Redefining corporate success.
The solver: Burgerville CEO Jeff Harvey.

IMAGE: Sasquatch Agency

Burgerville’s one-story headquarters in downtown Vancouver, Wash., looks like any other office building, save for the comically large knife and fork that serve as its front-door handles. Just through those doors, across from the desk of a bubbly receptionist, is an open office door belonging to Burgerville CEO Jeff Harvey.

Harvey’s close-cut hair, rosy cheeks and wide frame make him as unassuming and folksy as one of Burgerville’s restaurants. But like Burgerville itself, Harvey’s looks are deceiving. His admission that he’s basically vegetarian—you’ve got to eat the odd hamburger to be the boss—is a bit more surprising.

For 50 years, the family-run company has been inextricably linked to local farms and ranches. After all, its parent company, the Holland, started as a dairy. It wasn’t until the ’80s that then-boss Tom Mears gave the company an official mission: Serve With Love.

The phrase can seem trite to those outside the company, but when Harvey came to Burgerville eight years ago, he realized how seriously the business took its mantra, which he’s helped expand on. To that end, Burgerville—which has 38 locations in Oregon and Washington—offers its employees $15-a-month healthcare plans and plays local music in its restaurants.

But perhaps most impressive is Burgerville’s commitment to staying both green and local. The company has invested heavily in sustainability over the past decade, buying 100 percent of its energy from wind power, converting its cooking oil to biodiesel for its fleet of trucks, and investing in an elaborate in-restaurant composting program. (Burgerville’s packaging is almost all compostable, though Harvey looks pained while addressing straws and salad-dressing packets.) The company’s ingredients come almost exclusively from the Northwest, from hormone-free beef to cage-free hens: Even the dried cranberries it uses on its salads are from the Willamette Valley.

Burgerville CEO Jeff Harvey talks sustainability in this company-produced 2010 video

While there are financial benefits to being green—composting efforts, for example, save around $200,000 a year by reducing packaging and garbage-hauling fees—mostly it doesn’t pencil out well. Burgerville is different because the yardsticks by which it measures success are different. The key to getting businesses to look beyond the basics has been “getting a business case that looked at all the potentials for benefit, as opposed to ‘did it sell more burgers today?’” Harvey says. “That narrow look will never justify these sustainable approaches.”

Burgerville, which is privately held but has reported annual revenues of more than $60 million, has looked at the idea of offering shares to the public, but ultimately backed out because it wanted to retain control of the direction of the brand.

Harvey uses the same sort of business vernacular to explain that he sympathizes with Occupy protesters. “The level of dissatisfaction is high across the board,” he says. “That means wholesale change of social structures. I don’t think we’ve got a model for that. I’ve long believed that business probably has a whole lot more to contribute to social solutions than government ever could. [But] how do you get businesses to talk about that with a conscience to the community and not the almighty dollar? I think the time is just about here.”

The problem: The same big banks that caused the financial collapse are still doing shady shit with our money.
A solution: The 99 percent should keep its money in small, local banks.
The solvers: Move Your Money Portland’s Rachel Blumberg, Sam Coomes, Neal Morgan and Lisa Schonberg.

IMAGE: Inger Klekacz

Two things generally happen when musicians throw house parties: Someone plays the piano and at least one new group is drunkenly born. When Sam Coomes got to talking with Neal Morgan, Lisa Schonberg and Rachel Blumberg at a party at a local music producer’s house shortly after the initial Occupy Portland march, a supergroup was hatched. “We were all standing around being like, ‘Marching is cool, but it’s a symbolic thing and not a substantive thing,’” says Coomes, 47, a local music veteran with three-day stubble and wild streaks of white hair. “We just started talking about ideas and it snowballed.”

The assembly of notable Portland indie rockers—Coomes fronts Quasi, Morgan plays drums for Joanna Newsom and Bill Callahan, Blumberg has drummed for the Decemberists and M. Ward, and Schonberg plays with STLS and Kickball—will probably never take the stage together, but they did manage to build a website. That site, moveyourmoneyportland.com, has thus far gathered more than 150 digital pledges from bands, venues and individual members of the music community who have pledged to put their money in local banks or credit unions. The site doesn’t give advice on which local banks or credit unions people should consider—but group members agree that removing funds from national banks is a good place to start.

The widely circulated 2009 video made by Move Your Money advocates

Inspired by the international Move Your Money movement—launched by the Huffington Post in 2009 and based in part by lessons from the film It’s a Wonderful Life—these local musicians-turned-activists say it’s not just about the pledges. By attaching their names and faces to money moving, the group hopes to develop a grassroots model that can spread.

“Obviously there are people doing this exact same thing all around the world,” says Morgan. “This is not a new idea, but we thought maybe this is a replicable model. The musicians do it in Portland, cool. Maybe the visual artists do it in Portland. Maybe the poets do it in Portland...I’m going to put some of the larger businesses in Portland on notice. We’ll come knocking after this. Businesses that brand and advertise themselves as being community-focused and local, I’m going to ask them where they bank.”

Morgan may not have to do much persuading. Portland’s Mississippi Studios, which put its name on the Move Your Money website, switched from Bank of America in 2008.

“I would never go back in a million years,” says Mississippi Studios founder Jim Brunberg. “Albina Bank doesn’t have any of the hidden fees, and they call me if I’m stupid and about to bounce a check. As a small-business protector, they have made it possible for Mississippi Studios to weather the recession.”

The Thermals’ Hutch Harris switched from Chase to Advantis Credit Union after Morgan contacted him, and his band is in the process of evaluating its local options. “It was something I just didn’t know very much about,” Harris says. “For the band, you want to make sure you can deposit money on the road, and that’s where Chase was good. But I guess a lot of credit unions are linked together.”

Bands aren’t the only entities evaluating where their money is kept. Taking a cue from the Occupy movement and similar legislation in Seattle, the City of Portland is considering a reassessment of its banking strategies.  Occupy protesters should take credit (no pun intended) for the increased focus on banking politics, as well.

“You need the demonstration to bring the attention and build the energy,” Morgan says. “But you need things like this that are concrete. That’s what [Occupy] did for me: It made me do the research.”

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