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Occupy the Gorge protesters set up camp at Jackson Park

December 7, 2011

The temperature dropped precipitously but "Occupy the Gorge" protestors were not daunted from their mission.

"We have to wrest power back from the corporations. Right now, they are in control of the dialogue. We need to reclaim our democracy," said Sam Dunlap, Occupy the Gorge supporter from Home Valley.

"This model is about disagreeing without being disagreeable."

Dunlap was joined at the Jackson Park weekend campout by a cadre of other well-bundled protestors, many of who stayed on-site through two nights of freezing temperatures to raise awareness of their message.

In contrast to Portland "Occupy" protests, the Gorge movement has been a model of respect. Organizers worked with local law enforcement members before the tents went up and Mayor Arthur Babitz was greeted warmly during his camp inspection on Saturday.

"I came by to see what was going on here. I think I need to be able to speak about this with firsthand experience if any questions come up," said Babitz as he surveyed the peaceful campers and the enticing imported snow hill bustling with children on sleds.

According to Brent Foster, one of the event coordinators, the campers hope their gathering will be an invitation to talk about the role of corporate power within a democracy.

Paloma Ayala Vela of Hood River visited the camp with a sense of wonder as she said, "I think this is an original and unique movement. It is a special moment in U.S. history - a time for people to stand up for ourselves."

Ayala's husband, Patrick Hillen, was also at the gathering. Hillen is a professor at Portland State University with a degree in conflict analysis and resolution. Hillen gladly held the "Wall Street greed" banner across the sledding track while children and adults lined up to bust through its symbolic power over the citizenry.

"I'd like to leave a better planet for my son Elliot, who is just 15," said Elise Cain of Mt. Hood, on her reasons for joining the encampment. "If you can do nothing else, occupy your armchair. Educate yourself about what is going on. Question where your news is coming from and who controls that. Start a conversation."

Mitch and Laurie Kruczek of The Dalles brought their two daughters to the Park and sat coloring posters of Thomas Jefferson signing the Constitution.

"We like the idea that this is family-friendly. This is a safe place to learn about what it's like to have a community within a community," said Laurie Kruczek. "This is a really good experience of democracy for my girls."

This Hood River-style democracy-in-action event also included a free sledding hill, evening potlucks, music, visits with Santa and a warm fire to gather around.

The park was left in pristine condition on Sunday night as campers and sledders packed it in before the mercury ultimately dropped again.

Between outright visitors and supportive car honks from passers-by, organizers hope their message successfully resounded beyond the slopes of the park and into the living room of the community.

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