Abusive Paternalism

I have been bothered by an exchange with Portland Mayor Sam Adams that I had via Twitter last week. 


Following his announcement to evict Occupy Portland, I tweeted to him:


@MayorSamAdams says #OccupyPortland‘s 5 wks is “considerable time” to get message out. Sir, you don’t undo economic injustice overnite.

He responded with:

Agreed but: bit.ly/rqVIIm RT @gravestim @MayorSamAdams says #OccupyPortland’s 5 wks…you don’t undo economic injustice overnite.

If you follow the link he supplies, you will find a public statement by Occupy Portland regarding its efforts to resolve the problem. The transparency of the movement is both its strength and something that the media and politicians use against it.

The problem with his response is paternalism. He implies that because there were problems in the camp — problems that the camp was seeking to resolve — he should put on his Father Knows Best persona and paternalistically solve the problem for the camp. 

Paternalism is of the past. It is either/or thinking. It is win/lose thinking. Ultimately we will only solve the serious problems that face humanity by including everyone and seeking consensus. We need both/and solutions and thinking. 

Yes, I know it is hard to believe that consensus can work. Yet, those of all labels share a common humanity and a common desire to care for our families. If you’ve attended or watched a General Assembly on livestream you may have witnessed conflicting ideas. You probably witnessed people with disparate ideas coming to a conclusion that 90% of the people feel good about. Consensus works and lasts BUT it takes time.

Sadly, Mayor Sam Adams refused to let the process work. Instead he donned a paternalistic persona that was less Father Knows Best with its compassionate, patient teaching and more a sneaky, abusive father. After patiently allowing the Occupiers to stay on site throughout Saturday night and into early Sunday morning, the Occupiers and police officers cleaned up the nearly vacant parks together. Then, as the General Assembly was meeting to decide what to do next, the Portland Police Bureau struck. 

What would the General Assembly have decided had they had the time to work through their new reality without being attacked? I suppose we’ll never know for sure but what we do know is that the impatience of the mayor and police resulted in violence. The abusive, paternalistic decisions of the mayor and Police Bureau led to the beating of the Occupy Portland’s ASL Interpreter. Reports witnesses, “After his beating, he was hauled off by the clothing around his neck, where he gasped and plead [sic] for air until he passed out.” (http://occupyportland.org/2011/11/14/missed/)




The time for paternalism is over. The time for both/and thinking that includes all the people is now. If we are to solve the problems of our world, we must all have a place at the table.


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