Alley Valkyrie was livid.
Occupy Eugene had come onto her turf, set up camp, and now it looked like it was going to cost her money. This was back in October. Occupy Eugene had been in the Park Blocks for six days. On day number eight, Saturday Market was planning on using that same space. She stood up on our stage, tearing into us for our idiocy. How could we protest Wall Street by Occupying the space used by a weekly marketplace? I watched her up there, silhouetted by a streetlight, her chin jutted forward as she lashed us for our transgression. I thought, “She is really angry.”
This isn’t really a story about Alley Valkyrie. It’s more a story about Alley’s stomping grounds: Downtown Eugene. While I tell the story, Alley will transform. The first time I saw her, she was spitting mad and ripping Occupy Eugene a new one. Before the cops closed our camp at Washington-Jefferson, Alley had become one of the faces of Occupy Eugene.
Eugene is ranked 149th out of the 275 U.S. cities with populations over 100,000. That puts us smack dab in the center of the pack.. The majority of cities in the United States are about Eugene’s size. We come from a state that’s 24th in household Income. Statistically, we are very vanilla. There are lots of cities just like us. That means there are lots of downtowns just like Downtown Eugene. Chances are good, in each of those downtowns, there is at least one person like Alley Valkyrie.
Alley was angry that night on our General Assembly stage. She was angry before Occupy showed up. Alley was angry before Occupy made angry cool. All Summer long, Alley had been dueling with the Eugene Police Department over Downtown. When Occupy moved in, it only made sense that eventually she would join up.
That has to be what the EPD expected. As the police watched Occupy sprout right in the middle of Alley’s beat. They knew that the two of us, Alley and Occupy, were meant for each other. Occupy swept across the nation last fall. You have to know that different offices within Homeland Security were given the job of figuring out who, in the movement, to watch. In that first week, while Alley was ripping us a new one, I’m sure she was already listed by Homeland Security as one of us.
In essence, Occupy joined Alley. For a while, Occupy Occupied Alley. When the cops shut down the camp just before Christmas, Occupy was in the headlines and the editorial pages. Alley was in those stories. People mentioned Alley in letters to the editor. Whatever Alley did, Occupy was doing it through her.
This is a story about Downtown Eugene in the middle of the Occupy Spring. I can’t tell that story without Alley. I also have to give a nod to the Eugene Police Department, and Downtown Neighborhood Association, the lingering threads of the Street Family Alliance, and Occupy Eugene.
Most of the Downtown players were assembled before Occupy Wall Street was even mentioned in Adbusters. For everybody but Occupy, this story began last July. It began at the end of a Homelessness Roundtable at the Eugene Public Library. Until that moment Alley had been just another local merchant. She was a familiar face Downtown, but one of many.
At the public comment section of the roundtable, Alley stepped up. “Why?” she asked. Her question was aimed at Sgt. Fitzpatrick of the EPD. “Why don’t you hassle me, the same way you hassle the street kids downtown? Why don’t I get ticketed for riding my bike on the sidewalk, the same way street kids do? Why don’t I get trespassing citations for leaning against a wall? Homeless people in Downtown can get arrested for leaning against a wall. Why not me?”
It was Alley and the Police Sargent. When she was done, the room erupted in applause.
Alley was no longer unknown. The EPD knew her and pretty soon, so would Homeland Security. Without even knowing it, Alley had joined Occupy.