Sunday, September 02, 2012

Portland Trimet Rapes The Poor

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"Pack The Max!" public demonstration, Portland, OR 9/1/2012

“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” -Plato

I walked to the 5 star Hilton resort after today's action in an attempt to write this entry with no time constraints. The air conditioning there is better than at the public library in downtown Portland, and all things considered the half hour to an hour time limit on the computers at the library are pesky when you actually have something to say. I got in through the front door past the doorman, which I viewed as at least a partial success considering that with a five o' clock shadow, bloodshot eyes and a t-shirt reading "10 WAYS TO PISS OFF A COP," I thought they would have stopped me there. So far, so good.

There were a number of suits circulating throughout the lobby there in what looked like some sort of business convention. I moseyed over to a computer and sat at it, meaning to log on to the internet to publish this piece. The screen informed me that, given no access code from the front desk, I would need to swipe a major credit card and pay to the tune of 40 cents a minute for internet access. This clearly would not do.

I stepped up to the concierge then, and cleared my throat assertively. "EXCUSE ME, Miss. I need the access code for your computer, immediately."

She smiled awkwardly. "Are you a guest, sir?"

"No, but I am a very well-respected and well known member of the Portland community."

"Well, what do you need to use the computer for?"

"I'm a writer, you see. I am paid by a certain special interest group. I recently attended the Republican National Convention, and I have to write a very important piece by a deadline today. My assistant, who is unfortunately not with me at the moment, lost my laptop during a rushed last-minute official business procedure of sorts... And it is ABSOLUTELY IMPERATIVE that this article is written by 6:00 PM, Pacific Time today. I am, after all, a professional...."

"The first rule of Republican National Convention is YOU DO NOT TALK about Republican National Convention...."

She looked contemplative, and for a moment she rolled over the thought in her head before telling me finally, "I am sorry sir, but this computer is reserved for hotel guests only. You may have to use your credit card."

"At 40 cents a minute? What with all of my tax dollars already going to support GOVERNMENT DEATH PANELS? Do you know who my father is?!"

"I'm sorry, sir, but..."

"Nick fucking Fish. The commissioner on housing here in Portland. That's who."

"Sir, I am sorry but there is really nothing I can..." I raised my hand here to stop her.

"So that's the way you want to play it, hm? Fine. But I promise you, you will RUE the day you ever crossed Herbert Walker Fish." I sharply turned to walk away, and hauled ass to the public library so I could actually squeeze in a few minutes of writing before they closed. Their hours have been severely cut since the taxpayers' spent something like 2 million dollars on the Portland Police Bureau's war on Occupy in this fiscal year alone. This is a conservative estimate.

I myself know poverty. Unable to afford a computer of my own, I've written most of my blog entries from the public library. It has only been within the last month that I was able to find a place in my price range in which to live. Before this, I had been homeless in Southern California and Portland. In the last week, I have passed off the same one day pass I purchased for 5 dollars nearly every single day to pretend to ride legally. When that con didn't work, I resorted to begging drivers to take me where I needed to go for free, despite the ever present threat of being jailed by transit police for this most serious transgression. This only worked about half of the time. Inevitably, I often found myself stranded. Most of the drivers were kind to me, however, and happy to help if they could. Many of them are, as I later found out, in support of the protests against Trimet's upper management.

The main issues addressed by the "Pack The Max!" public action today were the discontinuation of the Downtown Portland fareless zone, a move which puts the homeless and disabled communities of Portland at a distinct disadvantage, and the steadily climbing fare rates that primarily affect the poorest members of the Portland community. Trimet Public Transportation has stated that the increase is necessary to account "for inflation", and claims that "due to a $12 million budget shortfall, we had to make some big changes this year to avoid cuts to service." They are also liars. The economy in Oregon is better than it has been in years. There is no shortfall. These are not the only complaints raised against Trimet, however. The recent changes in the Portland Trimet Public Transit system, and an increasingly zealous police force enforcing these implementations on the Max train and public buses, tend towards a general privatization of what should rightfully be public interests.

(Fun fact: The new building Trimet is moving into, which will cost 10.3 million dollars over aproximately ten years, is owned by Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman. For a quick overview of Saltzman's various real estate interests, please view his financial disclosure, located for your convenience here. Note the "12.5% partnership interest in Gallery Park, LLC Real Estate Investment", the company that owns a building located at 1800 SW First Ave, PDX- The address of the new Trimet headquarters. Feel free to call Dan at (503) 823-4151.)

I headed out of the house around 11:30 AM, September 1st to meet with Nameless, Pablo, organizer Holly Catron and the others in Shemanski park. Mercifully, the fare box on the 4 bus I hopped into Downtown Portland was broken, so I was safe for the time being. The goal of the action was simple: We would assemble as many people as we could there in Shemanski park to march with us to the nearest Max train station. From there, we would ride around from stop to stop, occasionally breaking rank and file and exiting the train to speak with people personally on the issues.

I arrived with Nameless at Shemanski around 12:30. Pablo was already there, carefully applying his black permanent marker to his picket sign. He greeted me warmly. "Someone once said that 'the penalty for refusing to become involved in politics is being governed by your inferiors'," he said, grinning.

I smiled wryly. "You're quoting Plato now? I thought you hated Plato."

"He was a fucking fascist," he told me. "But he was right about that."

"It's funny to hear you say that," I told him as I handed him a cigarette.  I abruptly changed the subject. "Oh, and by the way... When are you going to give that t-shirt of mine you are wearing that you were stabbed in back to me? You've already rinsed most of the blood stains out of it. That is a vintage Pink Floyd 'UMMAGUMMA' t-shirt, circa ninety-seventy-something-something, I'll have you know. I want it back."

"I'm not giving it back," he said. "I don't trust you with anything that has my blood stains on it. Sorry."

"Pablo," I protested. "I'm your FRIEND. Sometimes your paranoia is not entirely justifiable...."

"That means it isn't entirely unjustifiable, either. Heh heh heh... So, about the idea of a boycott. One thing we should keep in mind," he continued, "To make this work, we NEED to provide alternate plans for people to travel, should we choose to strike. People need to get to work. They need to be able to get where they are going. Trimet has a monopoly on public transportation in Portland. It's time for us to break that monopoly up."

About 20 minutes later, a volunteer from the organization OPAL named Nick Stack spoke on the issue of Trimet and it's alleged financial "shortfall".

"Where's the shortfall coming from? There is no shortfall. It's a lie," he told us. "One of the ideas we are rolling around is democratizing Trimet.... Right now, Trimet officials are appointed by the governor. There is no political accountability."

Around 1:30, most of us were ready to go. A few transit police showed up then, and an officer Engen asked us "Who is in charge here?" to a resounding answer of "NO ONE." He laughed, and told us that for the duration of the action, "Unless you get violent, or start a riot, we aren't going to mess with you. You won't see us."

"Do keep in mind," Nameless said then, "That they did only say that we won't be seeing the Trimet cops."

Sure enough, by the time we were finally in motion by a quarter til two, the regulars in yellow and black vests on bicycles were trailing close behind. I had come to realize that this is standard procedure, despite a complete lack of any realistic concerns of violence. It seemed they were really only being paid to spy on us. "Shouldn't the fact that they usually send at least a half dozen cops to trail us for every nonviolent protest seem unusual to most people?" Pablo asked, rhetorically.

We walked on, and boarded a Max train a few blocks up. The vast majority of us, including myself, did not pay for fare. We exited at Pioneer Square, mingling with onlookers and speaking to people directly. After spending about ten minutes outside of the Trimet offices in Pioneer Square, we continued on to another Max stop and boarded. Immediately, a sort of a tension between the regular commuters and the protestors was made palpable.

"First world problems," said an impeccably well-dressed yuppie memester in dark sunglasses, smirking.

"First world?" someone shot back. "Maybe it is for you, but it's not such a first world for people living under the bridge over there. It's a third world. And soon, all of America will be a third world." The kid with the smirk backed down, but mumbled under his breath the word "bigot". He looked embarrassed.

We got off at First Street, and a woman that looked to be in her late fifties that vaguely resembled a warthog violently shoved Pablo to move him out of her way. "Excuse me" would have worked. On the 5 minute ride I had also been physically shoved by another rider. "Who needs police when we are being attacked and physically disrespected by commuters or every day citizens?" I thought to myself. Like architect Jeremy Bentham's "Panopticon" prison structure, it seemed the constant threat of surveillance from an imposed hierarchy was enough to alter the behavior of the herd. Did these people realize they were being duped? The words "Stockholm syndrome" flashed through my head.

We continued walking for another 15 minutes or so, before it was agreed upon that we would part ways. I walked with an organizer for the event named Holly Catron in order to speak with her at length. As we moved back towards City Hall and the Justice Center, a well-dressed business man approached us.

"Are you protesting Trimet?" he asked.
"Yes," Holly said to him.

He paused for a moment, and I suspected that he would lash out with a healthy dose of verbal criticism. Instead, he smiled and said "Where do I sign up? All this is is a tax on poor people... It'd also be nice if they would stop putting fluoride in our water. Thank you guys for working on this. You'd be surprised at how many people are angry about this issue."

"Democratize Trimet," Holly said. She gave him an e-mail address to write to in case he was interested in keeping up with further actions, and we walked on.

"I just became involved with Occupy about a month ago," she told me. "I've only been involved in two actions, so far: The block party at Alicia Jackon's foreclosed home, and a free Bradley Manning march. A series of events in my life had caused my outlook on the world to change. I started paying attention to what was going on. I was basically a hermit, I kept to myself. Then I learned of the NDAA. Which was a major issue for me. I had always followed the stuff about Bradley Manning and Wikileaks, because it was easy to follow and front page news. The NDAA was not as well known."

"Was that a catalyst in you becoming more active in terms of organizing events?" I asked.

"It was a factor in that, yes, and it is also a reason I do not support Barack Obama for president in 2012. He had looked good to me before, he seemed to have principles. This convinced me otherwise."

"What encouraged you to actively pursue the Trimet issue?"

"In a larger sense," she continued, "I think that Trimet should be public transportation for the people. I think its current policies and the way it is run is a reflection of the corporatizing of public interests. Fareless square is as of today no more. The homeless downtown rely on Fareless Square to get around and to access services they need to survive, day to day. The proposal for the action was submitted to an Occupy General Assembly by members of the houseless community in Downtown Portland and it was agreed upon by consensus. Occupy Trimet is a working group within Occupy Portland, and they are the official organizers of this event. I helped with this. It's important. The information on Trimet's website is misleading. Nick addressed the issue of the shortfall. I think the general public sees that little blurb from Trimet on the reasons Fareless Square is being discontinued and believe it. They cited one reason as being that we don't have the air quality issues that we had when Fareless Square was first instituted. Supposedly, that is why it was instituted originally. But global warming and climate change are moreso issues now than they were then. And many of the other reasons Trimet gives for this are every bit as misleading, if not entirely false.

"One thing worth mentioning," she told me as we were finishing up for the day. "OPAL. Nick Staff spoke today. He's a volunteer for OPAL. OPAL works with BRU, or the Bus Riders' Union. They are another organization that is really active in working with public transportation. OPAL is now working with Occupy Trimet in terms of what to do and how to move towards making public transportation more equitable and just."

I thanked Holly for her input, and we parted ways. After about an hour spent to myself downtown, I made the walk back to the stop on 6th Street, where I had no other choice but to ride the Trimet 4 bus for the hour long trip back to North Portland. I waited several minutes before it pulled up next to me, alongside the curb. I was exhausted, and still very much broke. I hoped the driver would cut me a bit of slack.

"I'm an honored citizen," I told the driver. "I just don't have my ID yet. Besides, I only have a dollar anyway."

"A dollar's fine with me," he told me. "Hop on."

Pictures contributed by Jason Sayre.


  1. I salute the people that were able to participate. I was unable to attend.
    Alas, years of experience has proved to me that none of these actions do any good.
    Only a mass movement, like a complete boycott of paying fares, as it is in Greece, will have any effect.
    And then when the greeks get cited, they don't show up and they don't pay. And the government has lost control of its people.
    That's what we need here

  2. Hi Al. Thank you for reading and taking the time to share your thoughts. One thing I would like to point out: To some, getting people actively thinking about issues like this is at least a partial success in terms of actions making a difference.





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