Title

An "Official" Account: Delivering Occupy Portland’s Eviction Notice

Document Type

Contribution to Books

Publication Date

2013

Abstract

"All kinds of crime happens [sic] in downtown Portland every single day. Hundreds of people are homeless out in the street every single night, regardless of whether Occupy exists or not. And it seems to only be a crisis when it's actually at City Hall's doorstep. The existence of our movement has cast light on the plight of economic refugees whose lives have been endangered and are forced to sleep on the street, thanks to the policies of the 1 percent." -- James Oliver, Occupy Portland Participant, November 2011

"A mature understanding of movement rhetoric must take into account the nature and persuasive powers of its vernacular rhetoric." -- Hauser and mcclellan 2009, 25

So what if it doesn't? Hauser's theory of vernacular rhetoric (1998, 1999, 2001, 2006) claims that the everyday ways people coordinate their action rely on unique communication practices and strategies that are grounded in specific symbolic understandings of daily life. Such a theoretical lens helps to see how "rank and file members" of a social movement inevitably make sense of their participation in the movement differently than their leaders and those against whom they are protesting. Even though he makes a compelling case, our everyday accounts of social movements, like Occupy Portland (Oregon), continue to either tokenize the individuals participating (or linked by proximity) or sympathize with (or demonize) the institutional leaders against whom the protesters have gathered. Much of the mainstream media coverage of Occupy Portland appears to meet this prescriptive way of "reporting" on the people, events, and purposes of social movements. In particular, the voices of the people on the ground protesting have been edited, decontextualized, and otherwise collectively attributed to one particular person or persons. Other chapters in this book will appropriately and complexly bring our attention to how this collective of voices is worthy of being comprehensively represented, heavily contextualized, and otherwise diversified beyond a single voice closest to the proverbial microphone. It is my aim in this chapter, however, to focus on how the absence of focus on vernacular rhetoric reveals a singular narrative about Occupy Portland that fails to take into account (on the surface) many of the complexities that coming to understand this social movement necessitates. By focusing on a singular narrative told in one particular "official" voice-that of Portland Mayor Sam Adams, Occupy Portland as a movement is presented as advocating on behalf of a worthy cause but derelict in its duty to create a "better" city of Portland. The overt functional language utilized by Adams to (successfully) justify the need to end the Occupy Portland encampments will be further discussed through a critical lens, which reveals not only the romantic nature of much of Occupy Portland's oppositional rhetoric, but also how particular power relations emerge in the production and consumption of rhetoric as public discourse.