PORTLAND, Ore. – A group of protesters that included many supporters of organized labor blocked the Steel Bridge on Thursday morning. In the end, 25 people were arrested before other protesters moved on to a rally at Waterfront Park.
The Occupy protesters are taking action in concert with other protests around the nation and world as part of a "day of action" known as "#N17" , Internet shorthand for November 17th. That day is the two-month mark of the start of the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City.
Officers told protesters in Portland via loudspeakers to vacate the Steel Bridge and began arresting protesters sitting down on the bridge. Once all the sitting protesters were arrested, the group began to move off the bridge.
Many protesters moved across the lower deck of the bridge to Waterfront Park.
Police worked to reopen the bridge to all vehicle traffic shortly after the protesters left the span.
KATU News reporter Lincoln Graves said local union members joined protesters before they moved onto the bridge. KATU's Dan Tilkin reported some protesters sat down on the bridge and were willing to be arrested in acts of civil disobedience.
"I need health care, I need to keep my family home, I need to keep my family healthy," said protester Sandra Thomason, who is a member of the local Service Employees International Union. "Occupy means stand until everything is done."
Tilkin also reported that the crowd on the bridge was made up of more older people than was seen at the Occupy Portland protests at two downtown Portland parks. He saw around a dozen people being arrested.
Some praised the peaceful arrests.
"We're learning how to do this better," said Mac McKinlay, a retired landscaper and teacher.
A protest representative said the group was committed to non-violent protest actions. They say they are demonstrating against banks' improper use of bailout funds, the influence of financial institutions on government and the low tax rate paid by the most wealthy, which they refer to as "the 1 percent."
Sgt. Pete Simpson with the Portland Police Bureau said the protesters were "orderly" and officers were arrested some individuals then removed them from the area. The protesters were set to be cited and released unless there was another crime involved, Sgt. Simpson said.
Simpson said officers had to repeat many warnings to protesters asking them to clear the bridge. He said at times it was “like dealing with difficult children.”
Police said Wednesday they may use "chemical agents" such as pepper spray to disperse the crowd if need be.
The bridge remained closed to auto, bike and pedestrian traffic during the standoff but mass transit trains and buses for the most part got through. A TriMet official said some eastbound MAX trains were delayed for a short time.
Banks in Portland were on edge after Occupy protesters took over a Bank of America in San Francisco Wednesday and Occupy Portland said it plans to shut banks down here Thursday.
Protesters said they plan to march into banks and try to stop business. They claimed similar disruptions will happen in cities across the country in honor of the Occupy Wall Street's two-month anniversary.
Portland protesters vowed not to be violent or destructive but banks are on high alert for whatever happens during "#N17" - the name Occupy protesters coined for the bank protests on Thursday.
One Portland bank had windows broken earlier this week but no arrests have been made in that incident and police did not say if they think the incident was related to the Occupy protesters.
"We want banks out of our democracy, and we are going to get the attention of the public to make that happen," said Kari Koch, who is part of the group organizing the protest.
The plan was for peaceful civil disobedience like the sit-in in the Bay Area.
"It's not just about shutting down the banks on this particular day," said Koch. "It's about getting out the message of why we want the banks shut down."
"We need to bring the message that these financial institutions are corrupting our political system and damaging our communities," said Occupy Portland protest David Osborn.
"There are a lot of complaints about big banks but if you think about this company, we started out with two employees, with Mr. Wells and Mr. Fargo in 1852, and we had no customers," said Tom Unger with Wells Fargo. "The reason we became a big bank is people chose to do business with us."
Unger said banks around Oregon are prepared with extra security so their staff and customers will feel safe.
"This group of protesters is very unpredictable, so you want to prepare for any contingency," he said.
Occupy Portland voted as a group not to engage in any property destruction or violence. Its target is the big banks, not the local ones.
Police urge people to avoid the area around the Steel Bridge and Waterfront Park Thursday morning. The first march starts at 8 a.m.