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Wheeler grapples with new style of protests

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Different governments have different policies for allowing the public to testify at their meetings.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: DIEGO DIAZ - Hundreds of people marched and chanted through downtown Portland, blocking traffic on Interstate 5 and on the Marquam Bridge to protest the election of Donald J. Trump on Nov. 6, 2016.Although Portland has a long history of political protest, Mayor Ted Wheeler is grappling with something the city has never experienced before — repeated disruption of City Council meetings that are preventing day-to-day from getting done.

The council is scheduled to vote on Wheeler's proposal to give the presiding officer specific authority to expel those who repeatedly disrupt council meetings for up to 60 days. It is opposed by the ACLU of Oregon, which calls it unconstitutional.

Here is a look at notable protests from the past that did not repeatedly disrupt council hearings by decade. Many were targeted at the federal government, including U.S. involvement in foreign wars. Others were aimed at local issues, especially the treatment of minorities by the police. Some protests started out being against the federal government but turned into demonstrations against the police response to the protests.

Generally, there are more local protests against federal actions during Republican presidential administrations. But city-focused protests are increasing each year, embracing such emerging nonpartisan issues as homelessness, increasing housing costs, and bicycle and pedestrian safety.

For a previous Portland Tribune story on the issue, visit tinyurl.com/hpm7owg.

Decades of protests

1930s: Labor protests led by the local International Longshoremen's Association union tied up Portland docks, similar to the recent dispute with the former private operator of Terminal 6 at the Port of Portland.

1960s: Civil rights protests included marches through Portland neighborhoods. Early anti-Vietnam War protests started at Reed College and Portland State University before growing into numerous downtown marches.

1970s: In the "Battle of the Park Blocks," police cleared anti-war demonstrators from the South Park Blocks near PSU, resulting in numerous injuries. African-American residents later protested early urban renewal and redevelopment programs that undermined historic minority communities.

1980s: The Black United Front repeatedly protested racism and the police treatment of African-Americans, including the chokehold death of Lloyd "Tony" Stevenson, a bystander who called police to break up a fight. Large anti-racist protests followed the skinhead killing of Ethiopian immigrant Mulugeta Saraw.

1990s: The Albina Ministerial Alliance emerged as the most established African-American-led organization protesting racism and the police. The Cascadia Forest Alliance led numerous environmental

demonstrations.

2000s: Visiting national Republican officials repeatedly sparked protests against foreign wars and federal policies. Civil libertarians and others protested Portland joining the regional FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force.

2010s: Occupy Portland took over Chapman and Lownsdale squares near City Hall for two months to protest income inequality. New groups leading protests against racism and the police included Black Lives Matter and Don't Shoot Portland. The election of Donald Trump as president sparked new groups to protest his policies, including Portland's Resistance. Demonstrators began repeatedly disrupting City Council meetings over a variety of issues after Ted Wheeler became mayor in January 2017.

Different rules at different governments

During last Friday's informal listening session with many of the council's most persistent protesters, Wheeler said he was willing to reconsider how the council receives open public comments at its meetings.

Longstanding council policies allow no more than five people to testify about non-agenda items at the beginning of its weekly Wednesday meetings. They must sign up the previous week and their testimony is limited to three minutes each. Each person can speak only once a month.

Here are comparable policies of other local governments in the region:

Multnomah County Commission — Public comment is allowed at the beginning of weekly commission meetings. People sign up then. There is no limit on the number of speakers, although testimony is restricted to three minutes.

Metro Council — The president of the council establishes the time frame for public comments on non-agenda items. Typically, all weekly meetings start with a Citizen Communications period when people can testify about non-agenda issues by signing up any time before the period ends. There is no limit on the number who may testify, but comments are limited to three minutes.

TriMet Board of Directors — All monthly board meetings begin with 45 minutes of open public testimony. The regional transit agency posts specific rules for such testimony on its website. People wishing to speak can sign up 30 minutes in advance on a first-come, first-served basis. Testimony is limited to three minutes each. Those speaking are asked to be respectful of others and focus on issues under the board's jurisdiction.