The arrival time was set for 12:00pm. I got there at 11:30 and found parking without a problem. I didn't take it as bad sign because one of the fantastic things about Portland, Oregon is that no matter what is going on, you can always find a parking spot.
Low estimates for attendance had been one thousand people. High estimates ranged from five thousand to as many as ten thousand. My personal estimate was around two thousand. Even so, the thought of that got me pretty psyched, and as I walked to Waterfront Park with Junkyard Empire's "Rock El Imperio" blasting in my headphones, there was a feeling of strutting invincibility I hadn't felt since my twenties.
When I arrived at the crowd, there were about five to six hundred people, all mad as hell and ready to go. By noon, there were one thousand people and it seemed that I gotten the gumball count right. At this rate, by the time we were ready to march to the as yet undisclosed occupation site, the number would rise to about two thousand.
The vibe was a combination of palpable anger, tinged with the fear of not knowing what might happen this day. Some of us had been in situations in like this decades ago, others had only heard about them, and some couldn't believe that they were actually attending an event like this. But we all shared something we couldn't quite articulate - the sense that no matter what happened, no matter how many people showed up, that being there together, in this moment, mattered.
As time passed, the crowd swelled to an inconceivable capacity. It seemed as though every fifteen minutes another five hundred people would show up, until finally I could no longer see from one end of the crowd to the other. Suddenly, I was standing in the middle of six thousand people, holding a megaphone, helping to facilitate what has become known as the "Human Microphone." It goes something like this:
"Mic Check!" the speaker screams to claim the crowd's attention.
"Mic Check!!!" the crowd responds.
"Mic Check!!" the speakers shouts again to be sure she has them.
"Mic Check!!!!" the crowd shouts louder, to reassure her that she does.
After that process, the speaker says three-to-five words echoed by the crowd so that everyone in attendance can hear. And then it happens again. And again. And again. It is a tiresome process, time consuming and often belabored. But it is also a powerful community building experience. It is a show of respect, and sends the message that we are all listening, that we all care, and that it matters if we all hear everything. And even though we had megaphones, we still used the human mic, even when we didn't need to, precisely for all the reasons I just mentioned.
But the truth is, after a certain point we did need it, badly, because as I said, there were thousands and thousands of us there. In fact we had to add another ring to the "mic check" so that the speakers words would be said not twice, but three times, constantly waving and echoing off the canyon of the crowd.
We had originally planned to march only on the sidewalks as per police instructions, but by the time we were ready to go it was clear that the sheer volume of bodies would make this impossible. And so the police decided to open up the streets, and soon nearly seven thousand of us were marching through the wide, one-way avenues of downtown Portland, transformed from a canyon to a river that flowed on a slow, steady rush of human indignation toward a place none of us knew.
Our purpose was serious and our mission grave, but we also laughed, and danced, and celebrated and shouted out righteous chants that at times made it seem more like Mardi Gras than a protest. We were Americans, relocating the center our political power within ourselves, and it filled us not with anger but with buoyancy, and the sense that we were setting ourselves free from the powerlessness we have endured for too long.
We landed at the top of Pioneer Square and cascaded down the stairs, filling it instantly and overflowing out onto the sidewalks. It was an astonishing sight to see thousands and thousands of peaceful dissidents packed into the outdoor brick amphitheater. I immediately whipped out my video camera, and as I looked at the multitudes on my small, distorted screen, it reminded me of a painting by Georges Seurat, where all of those thousands of impossible dots magically assemble themselves into a masterpiece.
The police were quite visible now, lined up like sandbags to contain the flow of people. They treated us with kindness and respect and we returned the favor. There wasn't an ounce of hostility in the air. We were doing this Portland style - with an understated grace that ensured we would all respect ourselves in the morning.
From Pioneer square, we finally moved on to the Park Blocks, which was to become our final occupation site. It was a wild scene, almost like concert, with people of every age, color, creed and sexual orientation wandering around as a newly freed people who had finally arrived home. The fact that this kind of self-liberation was occurring in four-hundred-and-twenty other cities across America, not to mention Europe and the Middle East, was an absolutely thrilling prospect.
"Mic Check!!!" a speaker called.
"Mic Check!!" the crowd responded.
"Mic Check!!!" a speaker called again.
"Mic Check!!" the crowd reassured.
"Today...we start again!" the speaker declared.
"Today...we start again!!" the crowd echoed.
I suddenly flashed on all that had become before me in America. All the wars and revolutions and exploitations, all the lies and cheating and injustices, all the racism and hypocrisy and brutality, and for a brief moment it actually seemed possible to start again. Not forget. Not even necessarily forgive. But announce a new day in which we all might find ourselves, and each other, on the brink of an unstoppable, human evolution. Could it be? It's almost too much to hope for. And yet without it, it felt as if there could be no hope at all.
"Our moment in history just arrived!"
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