Directed by Hannah Gregg
Edited by Rodrigo Melgarejo and Jordan Kinley
Audio by Miliken Gardner
Text by Matt Stangel and Chris Cantino
“This is the Portland Police Bureau,” echoes the loudspeaker, “Under the authority of Oregon law, Southwest Main Street is being re-opened to vehicular traffic.”
Tiered riot cops are buffed faceless behind masks and shields; batons across chests and tear gas rifles (“less lethal launchers”) made ready. Some officers mount horses and others stand in rows, blocking Main Street at SW 3rd.
Persistent threats from mobile loudspeakers gnaw into the chants and side-chants of Occupy protesters, identifying the PPB's legal right to use force up to and including the use of chemical agents, should Occupy protesters remain in the street.
If the cops have a voice, this is it. The litigious orchestration of power.
Behind the riot squad, bulldozers and cleanup crews dump tents, food, and occupiers’ personal belongings into behemoth trash receptacles. Amidst are those most dedicated to the movement, those who've refused to leave the park. They are being arrested. Some sit quietly with their hands cuffed behind park benches; others are thrown to the ground.
Occupy Portland's encampment, which for five weeks was pitched tent-city fashion in Chapman and Lownsdale Squares, was issued an eviction some fourteen hours ago at midnight on Sunday, November 13. The protesters' reaction to the eviction was to occupy the streets-- a tactical maneuver which has effectively rerouted the flow of traffic and renewed the movement's central visibility. It's a last ditch effort to pressure the city into honoring their encampment-model of protest and free speech.
Into the Woods is here with Michael “Griff” Griffith-- a musician best known as Archers' synth player-- to help reflect what feels like a defining moment in the political identity of the echo boomer generation; us twentysomethings who came up between 9-11 and the bank meltdown of 2008. The crew is operating under a strict, self-imposed “don't be a pussy” mandate, though Griff never even hints at backing out.
He stands at the dividing line with his unassuming acoustic. In front of him, cops guard the foot-tilled mud of the parks where dead tents sag and dimple the ground. Behind, a moderately-populated city block has amassed with protesters and spectators. Smirking Guy Fawkes masks and anarchist bandanas. Grandfathers and near-homeless soccer moms. Local news affiliates in matching blue rain jackets. The ritual of force and compromise.
“I didn't come here to get maced or arrested,” explains Griff, “I came here because of the people.” Each one of them is something to this abstract collective identity, and this music is his contributing ingredient. His performance is as much for the cops as it is for the protesters.
The song he plays into the wall of riot police is called “Woods of Error”-- the title borrowed from Dante's Inferno, the lyrical content inspired by the loss of love. A very personal loss.
An event so tragic that Griff began struggling with an associative crisis. He saw his loss in everything. Each object from his life related back to the way things were. The experience pushed him overseas to live in Geneva where he walked dogs for money and had nothing to read pain from. He stopped making music.
After he returned to California, he wrote “Woods of Error,” and when performing the song he seems to relive the storied emotional nuances at its foundation. Lyrics tell the same tale: “Dry your eyes/when the sun doesn't shine/it still stings/on and on.”
It doesn't sound like a protest song as you’d expect one to be, but there’s certainly a message there for occupiers, officers, and bystanders alike: within great personal loss, there is beauty to unpack.
“It’s like medicine for the people,” says Griff.
As he fingerpicks and sings, someone shouts the Declaration of Independence through a megaphone, line by line. The resultant human mic seems to be getting weaker as fewer and fewer protesters repeat each phrase in unison-- ostensibly distracted with the threat of violence, or hesitant to vigorously associate with the most dedicated Occupiers who are prepared to get arrested.
Griff seems appropriately shaken by the experience. He is at once excitable and nonplussed, but the aftershock uncoils. We walk past the restaurant where earlier we dropped in for a pit stop and the guitar was passively noodled over chart-topper country music. We’re struggling to remember where we parked, and slowly retracing our steps back into a world where Occupy exists only on tweetstreams and media feeds.
The day is different now.
We continue on to a parking deck where, for audio purposes, we record Griff's song in an elevator; nature's isolation booth. We perch on the fifth floor and the air feels thin in the glass box. He's singing his loss into it, emotional postures congruent to his previous performance at the standoff; as if this thorny, aching memory-- lived through and resolved with music-- has become an even memory to put the world against. A stone rubbed into a mirror. A trapdoor greater than riot gear.
Loss is a hole you carry, available when the odds are against you. Occupiers are coming to know it too, with evictions spreading West to East on a widening memory: it’s these moments we keep with us and revisit for strength. They allow us to let go, to move on. Through the Woods of Error.