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Oregonians Prepare for Summer of Protests

April 23, 2012

PORTLAND, Ore. - Last week, it was Tax Day protests and post-office closure protests across Oregon. Next week, it will be May Day protests. And the pace is expected to continue throughout the summer, as frustration grows about wealth inequality, corporate tax rates, foreclosures and more.

Labor unions and community groups are working to prepare those who want to raise their voices effectively and peacefully. They're hosting "99-Percent" training sessions. At First Unitarian Church of Portland, social justice minister Kate Lore says the idea is to keep public gatherings legal and safe.

"It's been my experience that because you cannot predict what will happen, often people are afraid to come. But if we get training, and we have affinity groups, and we're all together, and we're prepared for anything, then people stay safe - not only us, but the police."

Rev. Lore says modern-day protests are different than those of past generations, partly because of social media. It makes the events more spontaneous, but also can make them more volatile.

The training should come in handy for a busload of Oregonians heading to San Francisco to protest at the Wells Fargo annual shareholder meeting on Tuesday. Angus Maguire, communications director for "We Are Oregon," an advocacy group fighting unemployment and foreclosures, says losing their cool would make the protests no different than some of the corporate tactics they are opposing.

"We can talk really easily about the violence committed to communities by foreclosures and tax dodging. So having a nonviolent protest, and committing the time and energy to trainings and a well-planned protest, are things that we're definitely doing, because it's part of the values."

Maguire says the view of a trained protester is to serve as a peacekeeper, even when tempers flare, and to keep the focus on safety and the overall goal of the protest.

Rev. Lore says she's a veteran of many protest marches and rallies, and is convinced that even in this age of online communication, showing up in person to stand up for what you believe in, makes a difference.

"It starts the conversation and it also increases the pushback when excessive use of force is used on protesters. So yes, I think protests matter. Really, besides voting, they are the only way Americans have to ensure a democratic system is in place."

"99 Percent" training is also available online, at training.the99spring.com.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR