UX of a Protest: Occupy Portland

Occupy Portland : Pioneer Courhouse Square

There aren’t many things more viscerally experienced than a protest. It’s got all the right components: big crowds, a common purpose you’re passionate about, defiance of authority and the accompanying tinge of danger.

For me, that danger was foremost in my mind. A funny but serious post went up on the weekly rag, The Portland Mercury, ominously titled Read This Before You Protest: An Open Letter to Occupy Portland from a Public Defender It gave sober advice that being arrested is a real, painful, annoying, costly possibility. I wrote the only phone number connected to a landline that I knew of on my arm in marker, as directed, so I could place a collect call from jail. Combine that with the macing by the NYPD at Occupy Wall Street protests days ago and Portland’s problem with police violence going back some years.

I pondered, “should I go at all?” How could I best limit my risk. I am tiny. You many know this already. I am 5’2” and people don’t believe me when I say I weigh more than 100lbs. (I do.)

Possibility #1: Put on my sturdiest boots, a nice brown hiking pair. Look tough. Grrrrrrr. Could I get my hands on a bullet-proof vest on short notice? These are thoughts in my head.

Possibility #2: I am vulnerable. Go with it 100 percent. Put on my bright pink scarf and lipstick. Walk out of the house exactly as I would on any other day. My theory being that looking entirely the opposite of the stereotype male hooligan in black shitkickers would mean that even if I did get in a tight spot, I’d be most likely to have someone protect me. My exaggerated femininity would be my shield. Let’s be honest, I might need someone to scoop me up from danger, whether it be BY a cop or FROM one.

I decided that I was actually safer by looking more vulnerable. When faced with something that you’d rather hide, you can either hide it really well or you can play it up even bigger. So yeah, I went with option two. Did you even think for a minute that I wouldn’t? That hiding it bit rarely works out well anyway.

Fight to be authentic. Your strength lies there.

The reality was there were no arrests in the crowd of 10,000. It’s Portland. We’re so polite we sat down on the ground when they asked so that everyone could see and hear. I hope as the protest continues through the night in Chapman and Lownsdale squares as peacefully as when I left it.

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

–Mahatma Gandhi

Crowds continue to fascinate me. If you’re interested in a scholarly tome on the issue, I can’t recommend Elias Canneti’s Crowds and Power highly enough.

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