PORTLAND, Ore. - City Commissioner Amanda Fritz told Occupy Portland protesters Tuesday afternoon that while they have a valid message, she doesn't think camping out in the parks is essential to their cause.
More than 100 protesters listened to Fritz while she answered their questions for an hour using a bullhorn.
About half of the questions focused on the campsite in the park, what the city could do to help with sanitation and whether Fritz and other commissioners support the camping effort.
Fritz did not apply any pressure for the protesters to leave; in fact, she praised the campsite's organization.
"Really, it's an extremely orderly camp. I'm really impressed," she said.
She told the protesters their right to free speech trumps the city's law against camping in public parks.
On Monday, City Commissioner Nick Fish reported the protesters have caused an estimated $19,000 in damage to the parks they're staying in. Fish stopped short of calling on protesters to leave, saying they needed to make changes.
Many protesters say that leaving isn't an option because they would lose their voice.
"If you make it so we can't camp, then you crush us," said Occupy Portland protester Mike Mobbs. "And if you want to crush us, kick us out. And if you want us to have our voice heard, let us camp."
"I don't think the park is necessarily vital for our long-term needs, for our long-term goals, but right now when we’re still building up the movement, when we're getting that momentum, it is vital to have everybody here," said protester Alex Pio.
Protesters said they appreciated Fritz meeting with them but still don't feel the city is doing enough to help.
Late in the afternoon, the Portland Business Alliance sent a letter to Mayor Sam Adams asking him to follow the lead of other cities and stop the illegal camping in public spaces.
Amy Ruiz, the mayor's spokeswoman said Adams hadn't had a chance to review the letter and wouldn't likely comment on it Tuesday.
Adams is overseeing the police response and when and if they will move in to remove the protesters. He has yet to explain his thinking beyond his standard line about striking a balance between protesters and the needs of the city.
"Like I said, this is practical day-to-day decision-making," he said Tuesday. "We're not the only city with an occupation camp. We're not the only city that has no-camping rules."
Last week Main Street was the battle line as police moved to reopen the road to traffic.
But without the city calling for their removal, protesters are as resolute as ever to stay where they are. But some said the protesters will eventually leave.
"We don't want to stay unhappy in the parks but give us somewhere else to go," said protester Justin Myers.
Meanwhile, Match Fourth provided some entertainment to the protesters early Tuesday evening. A brief taste below . . .