Marathon, protest organizers working for coexistence

Marathon, protest organizers working for coexistence »Play Video
Occupy Portland organizers said protesters plan to leave Chapman Square Sunday in support of the marathon. Many will return once the marathon ends.

PORTLAND, Ore. – Protesters said they plan to remain in Chapman Square through the weekend as they and Portland Marathon organizers work to coexist at the park.

Protesters held what they call a "general assembly" to discuss their future plans after a marathon organizer had requested they leave the park on Sunday – race day.

In a post on the group's website Saturday, Occupy Portland said protesters would keep a presence in Chapman Square, but most of them will head to the Park Blocks at Portland State University to make way for the marathon runners and walkers. They plan to return to Chapman Square in greater numbers when the marathon ends.

"Occupiers at the PSU Park Blocks will be meeting on Sunday morning to plan a march back to Chapman Square to build support for our movement and reach out to citizens downtown." 

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Early Friday evening Chris Hardman, a marathon organizer, stood in front of a group of at least 100 protesters and spoke to them using a megaphone.

"Our preference would be for you to not be in the red zone during race day," he said. "If you want to help us in the best fashion you could, that would be our request. Now, I understand that's a request."

Hardman said if protesters want to stay, marathon organizers will work with that; however, the area will be secured on Sunday with those fences and black curtains. That means once protesters leave they will not be able to get back in. This would start in the early morning hours Sunday and last until three or four in the afternoon.

Marathon organizers have a permit to be in the park for this weekend’s race; protesters, however, do not.

Police had set a Friday 9 a.m. deadline for protesters to leave the parks they occupied during the night; however, more protesters showed up in the afternoon and some even set up tents.

Hardman did make it clear that he wants to work with protesters.

"We're all in the same community. We all live together. We all have the same interests, and I think we can reach an accommodation for the best interest of everybody," he said.

According to the Portland Police Bureau, the mayor’s office has asked it to use discretion. And as long as things remain peaceful, police do not have plans to move the protesters from the park.

Both groups worked all day to hammer out a compromise.

The protesters moved into Chapman and Lownsdale squares Thursday and camped overnight to make their voices heard as part of the wider "Occupy" movement.

Protesters say they respect the marathon and want to work collaboratively to reach a solution.

Marathon organizers also said they understand the protesters' intentions and are working closely with all the stakeholders to reach a solution.

They say they're not too concerned about protesters taking up the park space they reserved. They say they only need the sidewalks and road downtown, not the green space in the parks.

The marathon simply fences off all that park space to keep spectators organized.

Event director Les Smith said he has taken a lot of questions from runners but thinks the marathon itself won't be impacted.

"I think runners are a very solid group," he said. "They don't worry about things like that. All they want to do is be able to start and run out on the course."

The Portland Marathon is a nonprofit event that supports local charities and services. They raised more than $2 million last year.

On Sunday, the marathon starts on Southwest 3rd and Salmon, makes its way through Old Town and across the St. Johns Bridge. It ends back along the waterfront.
Sgt. Pete Simpson with the Portland Police Bureau said the bureau was also hoping the groups reach a compromise.

He said the police did not plan to immediately forcibly remove protesters.

Lt. Robert King said during the afternoon the mood in the two parks was "relaxed" and that besides camping, protesters were not breaking park rules. He reported that discussions between all the groups have been "marked by a desire to be collaborative."

Protest representatives said they did not want to move to nearby Waterfront Park because of the dearth of trees and it is "too cold."

They also say they have the Constitution on their side to continue their protest.

"We feel like we have the right under the Constitution to assembly," said Alaina Melville, who is one of the participants in the Occupy Portland protest. "We have the right to come together to express our opinions. We have the right to free speech and our taxes pay to maintain these parks, maintain these sidewalks and to maintain these streets."

Police said they are doing what they can to keep the situation from spiraling out of control.

"The reason we allow some things to happen, like blocking of a street like that, is it allows the crowd to breathe a little bit and it's not compressing them into a small place where you will likely have confrontations with other people," Simpson said.

Police said overnight two people were arrested for tagging a Starbucks coffee shop and a police car.

Police said the pair had "over 100" Occupy Portland fliers with them. Police said the tags that were painted include, "Occupy Portland," "Wall Street Loves No One," "Perspective," and "Occupy."

21-year-old Nolan Zane MacGregor and 17-year-old Alexander Liljenquist were charged with Criminal Mischief in the First Degree.

In a press release, police said "these two arrests were the only significant activity in an otherwise quiet and peaceful night in downtown Portland."

The Occupy Portland protesters gathered in Waterfront Park on Thursday afternoon and then moved into the downtown area before many settled in to camp in the parks.

Many in attendance said they were there to highlight the growing disparity between the richest Americans and workers as well as to register their frustration with the state of affairs in the country.

KATU News reporters Erica Nochlin and Anna Canzano contributed to this report.