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Occupy Ashland making transition in protest strategies

Protesters affiliated with Occupy Ashland are turning most of their attention away from in-the-street activism and toward the desks of policymakers.

It's been more than two months since the Oct. 6 opening demonstration on the Plaza sparked 22 consecutive days of camping there, and numerous other small-scale protests around town, all of which slowly faded away.

But things haven't slowed down for the group, its organizers insist.

"I think we're becoming more and more focused on specific issues," said Emery Way, 24, a member of the student-led activist group Phronesis and an organizer of Occupy Ashland. "I'm feeling more and more confident that we've passed over that hump of having to maintain a presence in a particular spot for an extended period of time, or protest each day in order to show people something is wrong."

Even so, Occupy Ashland organizers said seven to 10 of their protesters traveled across the state for Monday's protest at the Port of Portland.

"The port protests went amazingly well," said Kai Lewis-Kelly, 19, of Ashland, who has been involved with Occupy Ashland since it began. "I went mostly because I really believe in the action of non-violent protest."

Lewis-Kelly and William Barondeau, 22, of Talent, traveled to Portland together and started occupying the port terminals at 6 a.m. Monday.

"My motivation was to send a message that, as the people, we are in control of our trade policy. Not multinational corporations who neglect the needs of the people for profit," said Barondeau in a Facebook post following the port protest. "It makes no sense to export un-milled logs. It makes no sense to subvert an ethical trade policy with the perpetuation of 'free trade' agreements."

In conjunction with similar demonstrations along the West Coast, protesters in Portland disrupted the loading of ship cargo, commercial truck traffic and the day's wages of about 300 employees working at the port on Monday. The terminals reopened Tuesday.

As activists, said Way, the individual members of Occupy Ashland are excited about the national attention created by the swelling of other cities' Occupy protests.

"And we support that "… there is a lot of potential there," he said. "We (Occupy Ashland) are trying to get onto the local, state, national level. "… But I think we are somewhat forced, for better or for worse, to focus on local issues at this point."

Way said opposing the Mt. Ashland Ski Area expansion, bringing a homeless shelter to Ashland and reworking the city's camping ban among other homelessness issues, and opposing local foreclosures are the group's primary concerns right now.

"We do plan on hopefully running a few candidates for next year's election for mayor and City Council," he said. "We're hoping to have a big impact there."

Way said the group has not considered naming any candidates at this point.

"It's about taking back local politics and making sure our voices are heard in elections, and on various issues that our representatives are voting on," said Meryl Six, 23, a member of Phronesis and Occupy Ashland organizer. "We have built a great group of people since we started, and have been able to successfully draw on that collective knowledge."

The most ambitious goal of the movement is to organize an occupation of Salem in conjunction with the beginning of Oregon's 2012 legislative session, said Keith Haxton, 23, of Ashland, an organizer of Occupy Ashland.

Organizers in Ashland are working with many of the other occupy movements in Oregon to make the march on Salem a reality, said Haxton.

Occupy Ashland continues to hold its general assemblies at 6 p.m. Wednesdays and 2 p.m. Saturdays in the Plaza. On average, about 25 people attend the meetings, organizers said. On Wednesday, only a handful showed up.

For more information about Occupy Ashland, see www.occupyashlandoregon.org.

"Right now, we'll see how we can keep influencing things at the grassroots level," Way said. "I'm confident for the future. "… We have a certain energy that I feel like is going to stick with us for a while."

Sam Wheeler is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.