Published at the Occupy Patriarchy blog on November 6, 2011
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
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.
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
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