‘The Whit’ neighborhood in Eugene – gentrification & history

There are four articles here: What makes ‘The Whit’ Tick? (2011), Idealism Fuels Anarchists’ Battles (2000), A Revolutionary Moment Hits Small-Town America (1999), and Flames of Dissent II (2006) related to history and gentrification in the Whiteaker neighborhood, Eugene, Oregon. (Wikipedia).

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From The Register-Guard. By Sherri Buri McDonald. Nov 21:

What makes ‘The Whit’ tick
New businesses find the area’s odd mix to be fertile ground

On a random day in the Whiteaker neighborhood west of downtown Eugene, Arcimoto engineers were building a prototype electric vehicle in the fledgling company’s space at Fifth Avenue and Blair Boulevard. Next door, workers were sliding vegan pies into the oven at Pizza Research Institute. A few blocks north on Van Buren Street, Ninkasi was brewing and bottling its award-winning beer. And around the corner, Seattle transplant Samuel Decker, a glass blower who trained with Dale Chihuly, was creating a vase in his workshop.

This only scratches the surface of all the activity in the district nestled along the Willamette River, from Skinner Butte to Chambers Street.

“It’s kind of a working man’s neighborhood, and it’s Eugene’s oldest neighbor­hood,” said Bill Mahoney, who has lived in the Whiteaker area for 25 years and started the New Day Bakery there in 1989.

At night, the neighborhood catches its second wind when Ninkasi’s tasting room hosts the after-work crowd; Sam Bond’s Garage on Blair Boulevard fills with live music; Izakaya Meiji Co., a tavern just north of the landmark Red Barn Natural Grocery, serves Japanese cuisine and drinks until 1 a.m.; and the Blair Alley Vintage Arcade welcomes players of vintage pinball and arcade games in an alley behind Ninkasi until 2 a.m.

Over the years, the Whiteaker area has been called a lot of things: the “bad” part of town, the epicenter of Eugene’s anarchist community and, according to a 2007 Esquire article, “one of the weirdest neighborhoods in America.” But lately it’s become increasingly known as a hotbed for new businesses.

In the past few years, at least 10 new ventures have started in Whiteaker’s business core, which stretches along Blair Boulevard approximately between Third and Seventh avenues.

“It’s amazing,” said Mark Jaeger, owner of Jaeger Real Estate and a partner in Sam Bond’s Garage, a music venue and pub housed in the 1918 garage that truly used to be the repair shop of a guy named Sam Bond.

“It’s been flourishing this whole time,” he said. “You think of the number of new businesses that have come in — Papa’s Soul Food Kitchen, Pizza Research Institute, Izakaya Meiji, and, of course, Ninkasi is really the big player down here now.”

Ninkasi, which moved its brewery to 272 Van Buren St. in 2007 and later added a tasting room and patio, has brought more visibility to the neighborhood. It, along with a cluster of new businesses along Blair Boulevard, are bringing more people to the Whiteaker area from other parts of town, according to business owners in the area. Many of the newest ventures are the brainchildren of creative, young entrepreneurs in their 20s and 30s.

That’s a good sign, said Portland economist Joe Cortright, who has studied the impact of young educated workers on economic growth.

The entrepreneurs themselves help to create jobs, he said, pointing to Ninkasi, which employs 57 people, as a prime example. A collection of young, inventive people in a neighborhood helps create an attraction that makes the community more desirable to everyone, including more young people, Cortright said. And employers looking to locate or expand want a place with lots of talented young workers where it’s easy to recruit more, he said.

Whiteaker has “a reputation now as sort of the happening neighborhood, and the young people like that — all ages like that,” Jaeger said. “They like to see the cutting-edge stuff. There’s just a lot of energy down here.”

That energy hums along Blair Boulevard from the southern end at Seventh Avenue, where Redoux Parlour sells locally designed clothing and jewelry, to Izakaya Meiji, the new tavern at 345 Van Buren St., owned by Quinn Brown, 27, and his wife, Ayumi Kamata, 40.

“People tend to think of cool ideas and then just do them, and I think that attitude can be very infectious,” said Mark Frohnmayer, a 37-year-old Whiteaker resident who founded electric vehicle company Arcimoto in 2007 and who was instrumental in renovating three buildings on Blair that house Arcimoto, Pizza Research Institute and a massage therapist.

People who live and work in what they call “The Whiteaker” or “The Whit” describe it as a colorful, Bohemian, artsy, interesting place to be — the alternative part of town.

In the span of a few blocks there is the rainbow mural on the Glass Menagerie glass pipe store, the saltwater-taffy-colored bungalows in the East Blair Housing Cooperative, the Red Barn Natural Grocery, the blue and gold domes of the St. John the Wonderworker Serbian Christian Church, and the teal and black industrial facade of Ninkasi.

“I almost see Whiteaker as Eugene’s Eugene,” Frohnmayer said. “It’s a place that really represents the full spectrum of Eugene’s various social and political groups.

“For me, having a neighborhood that as a whole sort of thinks outside the box is a fairly constant source of inspiration,” he said.

The neighborhood’s alternative-ness, its residents’ deep support of locally owned businesses, its sense of history, its walkability and its accessibility to the thoroughfares, Sixth and Seventh avenues, are all draws, entrepreneurs say.

With the exception of the 7-Eleven on West Sixth Avenue, “There are no chains in The Whit,” Frohnmayer said.

Residents believe in “keeping it local and supporting people who live and work in the neighborhood,” Jaeger, of Sam Bond’s Garage, said. “It’s sort of putting your money where your ideals are.”

The community comes out in droves every August for Whiteaker’s Block Party, and the last Friday Art Walks each month attract people from inside and outside the neighborhood.

“That’s usually our biggest day of the month,” Ninkasi CEO Nikos Ridge said.

Eugene’s oldest neighborhood has a sense of place that many residents and business owners find attractive.

Blair Boulevard became a historic commercial district in 1993. The Hayse blacksmith shop, built in 1914 — now Red Barn Natural Grocery — is on the National Register of Historic Places. In Eugene’s early days, Blair Boule­vard was part of the Willamette Valley’s first north-south highway, which explains its odd diagonal orientation on the street grid.

Chad Boutin, owner of Blair Alley Vintage Arcade, put it bluntly when he said that people are starting businesses in the Whiteaker area “because it’s not downtown.”

“Downtown was ruined during urban renewal,” he said. “Eugene basically destroyed our downtown. They tore down our historic buildings … and put up horrific ’70s architecture and made it unliveable. Here in the Whiteaker we’re a unique thing. We still have our historic buildings. Urban renewal didn’t touch us because we were that little wart down there by the river.”

Much of the Whiteaker area was already developed with a mix of houses, stores and industrial uses when the city officially established zoning in 1948.

So it “has one of our most generous allowances for mixed use — residential, commercial or industrial in close proximity of each other,” said Gabe Flock, a senior planner with the city of Eugene.

“I think it encourages things to happen when we have a nice mix,” Jaeger said.

Flexible zoning, and the neighbors’ acceptance of a broad range of business activities, was important to Decker, the 36-year-old glassblower who moved to Eugene two years ago with his wife, Katrina, and three young children.

He said they looked at sites in Coburg, near the University of Oregon campus, along West 11th Avenue and downtown before leasing a former auto glass shop at 1093 W. First Ave.

“Downtown didn’t feel too welcoming to a business like us,” he said. “We’re too noisy.”

Rents in the Whiteaker area are cheaper than in many parts of town. And it’s still possible to start a business without a huge outlay, especially the mobile food carts that roll up to Ninkasi’s patio and other locations throughout the neighborhood, business owners said.

“Not all the businesses make it here,” Mahoney, of New Day Bakery, said. “But at least they have the opportunity.”

Entrepreneurs also benefit from business development loans from the city of Eugene and assistance from other organizations, including NEDCO, Oregon’s first Community Development Corporation, which was founded in the Whiteaker neighborhood in 1979.

Although some Whiteaker businesses, such as burrito restaurant Laughing Planet and waffle shop Off-The-Waffle, have expanded into south Eugene, many business owners say they’re not interested in moving beyond their home turf.

The owners of Ninkasi and Sweet Life Patisserie — both businesses that developers have approached about expanding elsewhere, said they’re not interested right now.

“Managerially it’s just not on the list of our priorities and it’s not our core business,” Ninkasi’s Ridge said.

“We’re not opposed to another location,” said Cheryl Reinhart, who owns Sweet Life with her sister, Catherine. But it’s not their immediate plan, she added. “It would give us a whole new set of overhead expenses.”

Whiteaker business owners say those attempting to revitalize downtown can learn from their neighborhood, which, like downtown, has struggled with transients, drug-dealing and some people’s perception that it’s not a safe place to be.

A big difference between downtown and the Whiteaker neighborhood is “we have people living here; their homes are here,” said Mahoney, of New Day Bakery.

Jaeger, of Sam Bond’s Garage, encourages downtown to “be more welcoming.”

“There’s a lot of fun stuff going on down here (in The Whiteaker),” he said. “There’s music, there’s a lot of foot and bike traffic, there are food carts.”

Having lived in Brooklyn for four years, Ninkasi’s Ridge said he always thinks it’s funny when people say Eugene has “bad” neighborhoods.

“As long as you start providing things that people are excited about and ways that people can have fun, then that (negative perception) will take care of itself,” he said, adding that he’s hopeful that the redevelopment projects under way downtown will help create that kind of environment.

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Second article

From A-Infos.ca. The Oregonian. August 2000:

Idealism Fuels Anarchists’ Battles
A desire to destroy the institutions that impose order underlies the
actions of militant anarchists

Sunday, August 13, 2000
By Bryan Denson of The Oregonian staff

EUGENE — To the anarchists at Third Avenue and Van Buren Street, it
appeared the entire police department was dropping into the Whiteaker
neighborhood at once. Officers came on mountain bikes, a motorcycle, a
sport utility vehicle and on foot, blanketing the corner in blue that
recent afternoon. It seemed an odd show of force given the target of
their attention: a daily coffee klatch.

Nearly every morning for 18 months, sleepy-eyed anarchists have
parked a wooden cart on the sidewalk to share free coffee and days-old
pastries with the poor. Regulars at Cafe Anarquista sip strong organic
java and loose the occasional rant against technology and the cops. A
wooden fence rises behind them, a collage of graffiti and sun-faded
fliers that encourage resistance to authority.

But on that recent day, there was no resistance, merely
submission to a police force that has had its fill of the local
revolutionaries. Officers assembled en masse, they later said, to thwart
a spontaneous uprising. They accused coffee drinkers of blocking the
sidewalk, issued $250 tickets to people who can barely scare up rent
money, and rode off.

It was merely the latest brush between police and anarchists in
Whiteaker, a Bohemian neighborhood in west-end Eugene. Radicals complain
that they are being detained for as little as jaywalking so police can
videotape their tattoos, clothing and patches. A wooden sign at Cafe
Anarquista jokingly charts the intensity of the “police occupation.” A
dial toggles from “ominously quiet” to “omnipresent (carry rocks)” to
“thoroughly agitated (fight back).”

City officials aren’t laughing.

They blame the growing clan of anarchists for a series of
sometimes-riotous street demonstrations over the past 14 months. It was
a hometown fight until last fall, when a few of the local
revolutionaries helped turn downtown Seattle into a Beirut of shattered
storefronts, burning trash bins and spray-painted walls outside meetings
of the World Trade Organization. The revolt took an ominous turn in
June, when prosecutors accused two anarchists of trying to set fire to a
gasoline tanker in Whiteaker.

Now anarchists are heading to the Democratic National Convention
set to begin Monday in Los Angeles. Mayor Richard J. Riordan already has
warned that police will “get tough” on troublemakers, although he
acknowledged most protesters would be orderly.

“Unfortunately,” he wrote in a recent Los Angeles Times
commentary, “there will be other types of demonstrators — a small but
significant number of rogue demonstrators, anarchists whose sole intent
is violent disruption.”

Some of Eugene’s most militant anarchists, sometimes called the
“Black Bloc,” wrote a retort. They told the mayor they wouldn’t play by
his rules and would rage against those killing the Earth for profit:
“Our objective is not to target individuals, but instead the economic,
state and religious institutions which enslave us.”

The note ends, “See you in L.A.”

And it seems they will. Some of Eugene’s anarchists plan to
attend the North American Anarchist Conference in Los Angeles this
weekend. The event opens with three days of talks before some peel off
to protest the DNC.

California state Sen. Tom Hayden, a Vietnam War activist accused
of inciting demonstrators at the 1968 Democratic National Convention,
jetted to Oregon on Aug. 5 to discourage some of Eugene’s anarchists
from engaging in militant protests in Los Angeles. A Hayden spokesman
declined to comment on the meeting.

Goal is to destroy, not reform

Clans of anarchists — including growing strongholds in Eugene;
Portland; Seattle; Vancouver, British Columbia; and the San Francisco
Bay Area — represent the most militant wing of an international
movement opposed to the global economy.

But unlike their allies in the mass movement — a much larger
coalition of peaceful labor activists, environmentalists and
human-rights workers — hard-core anarchists have little interest in
reforming capitalism. They want to destroy the institutions, such as
government, that impose order on life.

Many of Eugene’s anarchists advocate “green anarchy,” a theory
that suggests humans were better off before the advent of farming
thousands of years ago. They argue that primitives who hunted and
gathered their food enjoyed freedoms that modern humans, slaves to
technology and the capitalist treadmill, do not.

But the Black Bloc’s concessions to technology — electricity,
running water, public transport, the Internet and other urban amenities
— seem to contradict their politics. Why not live in the woods?

Steven Heslin, a 31-year-old anarchist, acknowledged the
criticism one day recently at a coffeehouse by the Amtrak station. He
and his cronies said there is no escaping the reaches of industrial
society, even in the world’s diminishing wilderness; theirs is a gradual
retreat from technology, a revolt from inside the beast.

They aren’t the first anti-capitalists to set up a resistance in
the belly of the system they oppose. During the late 1800s, anarchists
in Chicago instigated laborers to rebel against factory owners who
resisted such reforms as the eight-hour workday. And in the Northwest in
the early 1900s, the Wobblies called for an end to capitalism and the
wage system.

Whiteaker’s anarchists know the general public’s not an easy
sell on a utopia free of TVs and microwave dinners. They also know that
most Americans’ image of anarchists — if they have one at all — is of
masked youths going berserk in the streets.

A new militancy

One morning last October, sitting in his tiny moss-covered co-op home in
Whiteaker, former Berkeley hippie and anarchist author John Zerzan
sipped instant coffee and recalled the day the tide changed in Eugene:
On June 18, 1999, a routine protest against capitalism turned into a
spontaneous riot of broken windows and flying rocks.

“I’d been waiting since the end of the ’60s to see real
opposition to the system,” Zerzan said.

When Zerzan moved to Eugene in 1981, just a handful of locals
advocated anarchism. But the 1999 riot and WTO demonstration illustrated
a new militancy. In Seattle, anarchists — including perhaps two dozen
from Eugene — rioted as police squared off with peaceful protesters.
They left the downtown a clutter of trash, smoking garbage bins and
broken glass.

While vandalism at the WTO gave Jay Leno some gags, it raised
questions about why anyone would smash the window of a Gap store. So
anarchists posted an Internet communique to explain: They struck Old
Navy, Banana Republic and the Gap because owners relied on sweatshop
labor and invested in logging of Northwest forests. They targeted
Fidelity Investments because it was party to an oil project that would
uproot residents of the Colombian cloud forest. And they hit Planet
Hollywood “for being Planet Hollywood.”

After returning home from WTO, Zerzan praised the young
revolutionaries. And he noted he is not, as some suggest, a leader or —
he grimaced — a guru. Theirs is a leaderless resistance.

Zerzan ducked out of his cottage after an interview with a “60
Minutes II” field crew one afternoon, leaving a panel of young
anarchists in his living room. It seemed to please him when he hadn’t
recognized some of the young faces.

“Guerrilla gardens”

The day after the Cafe Anarquista bust, a 6-foot-tall anarchist named
Geneva Johnson hiked to a grassy lot next to West Side Foreign Auto and
tiptoed into a garden. Her long skirt rode over a hodgepodge of
tomatoes, squash, cabbage, mustard greens and chamomile.

The garden just appeared one morning, as if by elves, along with
a pair of wooden benches etched with the word, “Think.” It is one of
several “guerrilla gardens” to take root in Eugene this summer on public
and private property. Johnson, a 21-year-old Minnesotan who uses a
different last name than her birth name, claimed not to know who
“liberated” the lot.

Food yielded from guerrilla gardens often goes to Food Not
Bombs, a loose collective of anarchists and other radicals. They protest
poverty, violence and materialism by feeding vegan meals (those made
without animal products) to hungry people, including themselves. They
feed about 20 people — and sometimes many more — nearly every
afternoon, free of charge, no questions asked.

“This is our vision for what things could be,” said Johnson, who
wants badly to show that anarchists are more than just window-smashers.
“Cafe Anarquista should be happening all over town. Food Not Bombs
should be happening all over town. . . . We don’t want a revolution
where everybody’s starving and scared.”

The neighborhood radicals have set up a complex support system.
They take care of each other’s children, teach skills such as knot-tying
and self defense in their “Free Skool,” and trade used clothes from a
box on the corner. They provide “safe spaces” for battered women and run
the local “Copwatch” program to videotape police-citizen interactions.

The Eugene resistance is almost exclusively Anglo, a mish-mash
of radical environmentalists, feminists, philosophers, nomads and
outlaws. Many live in Whiteaker, and their median age is perhaps 25.
Most were raised in middle-class families, although some grew up poor.
They stay fed with oddly contradictory jobs such as telemarketing. They
are dreadlocked and tattooed, profane and sometimes profound. Mostly,
they are disappointed.

Some have suffered the consequences of parents cast aside by the
whims of industry. Others have fought relentless battles to save ancient
trees from logging.

Many strike back at the system in subtle ways, although some of
their methods sound less like politics than excuses for boorishness.
They brag about dropping litter in wealthy neighborhoods and shoplifting
from corporate chain stores.

End of negotiations

It’s hard to pinpoint the moment Eugene went from being a liberal
college town to a hothouse for the revolution. The city of 133,000 has
long been a drop zone for hippies, free thinkers and militants. In 1970,
protesters torched the ROTC building on the University of Oregon campus.

But the nature of the revolt has changed, said Officer Jennifer
Bills, who has worked in Whiteaker for four years. Police and activists
used to negotiate terms of arrests before protests, but anarchists now
rarely talk with police, she said.

Tensions came to a head in June, when two days of street
demonstrations resulted in 63 arrests. Some Eugene residents complained
that police — firing beanbag rounds and pepper spray — overreacted.

“It’s not the anarchists we’re afraid of, it’s the police,”
Eugene resident Craig Miller testified at a June 27 public forum.
However, Miller, 43, acknowledged “there’s a lot of foolishness on both
sides.”

Later that hot night, a few anarchists took a table at the Pizza
Research Center, analyzing the public forum. They agreed the June 18
demonstration — brought to order by 100 officers from Eugene and two
other agencies — was overkill that merely inflamed the public. Which
was more or less good news, said Robin Terranova: “The police are much
better at radicalizing people than we are.”

The conflict continues

The day after police swept Cafe Anarquista, the regulars were back,
hand-rolling cigarettes, drinking java out of Mason jars and petting
“Riot,” the striped cat.

A few hours later, police returned and tacked a notice of their
own on the “free space” fence: Because of complaints from neighbors,
officers would strictly enforce all sidewalk, roadway and trespass laws
there beginning July 24.

The regulars showed up that Monday with cameras and a few
reporters. Coffee was served, pastries eaten. But police didn’t show.
When they cleared out, sunshine fell on the free space fence.

And if you looked real close, you could read a bold slogan
fading in the sun: “We’re Not Leaving!”

You can reach Bryan Denson at 503-294-7614 or by e-mail at
bryandenson@news.oregonian.com.

<< Chuck0 >>

This was the year *everything* changed.
— Commander Ivanova, 2261

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Third article

From The L.A. Times. Kim Murphy. August, 1999.

A Revolutionary Movement Hits Small-Town America

EUGENE, Ore. — The Blair Island Cafe was supposed to be good for the Whitaker neighborhood. A clean, colorful place with Mediterranean-style pasta and seafood, an alternative to the organic bakeries and cheap microbrew taverns that have always nourished this community of 70-year-old bungalows, food co-ops and what appears to be the largest remaining population of Volkswagen buses in the hemisphere.

The popular resistance started last August with a broken restaurant window, and when that was repaired, another, and another. Then the literature castigating “yuppie gentrifying scum” and their BMWs parked outside. Fearing worse, the Blair Island Cafe closed its doors late last year–and the movement to keep Whitaker a low-rent refuge for the down-and-out raised its collective fist in victory.

“It is possible to build and maintain a very strong and self-empowering resistance to the pioneering gentry . . . through individual and small group actions,” read a flier posted recently near the site of the former restaurant. It urged a process of neighborhood self-destruction as an antidote to escalating property values. “Resist the urge not to litter. The health and diversity of our neighborhood depends on it.”

Eugene for years has stood with communities like Berkeley and Santa Cruz as a seedbed for the counterculture, the kind of town where 1960s-era liberals grew into middle age, got jobs and sport utility vehicles, took over the City Council and passed resolutions about investments in Burma and Styrofoam containers at fast-food outlets.

Then the anarchists moved in. Forget about investments in Myanmar; smash the banks. Why bother about hamburger wrap? Close down McDonald’s. And so this Oregon university town has given birth to one of the most active communities in what seems to be a small but growing national resurgence in anarchist thought–a movement dedicated to wiping away just about everything the last 2,000 years of human civilization has produced: government institutions, industrial development, technology.

Eugene Becomes a Lab for Anarchists

Eugene, a city of 150,000 that is best known as the home of the University of Oregon, has become a test kitchen for the principles of anarchy applied to small-town America. Issues like upscale restaurants and condominium developments, new downtown parking lots and logging of local forests–these are as likely topics as the writings of Emma Goldman and Noam Chomsky during weekly meetings of the 20 or so members of Eugene’s Black Army Faction.

In recent months, anarchists have vandalized the minivan of a police officer, writing “Die pig” across the back window; waged war over the removal of dozens of stately old trees to make way for a downtown parking lot and residential development; started a grass-roots community school with training in subjects like vegan cooking and worm cultivation; launched damaging attacks against local computer software and Nike outlets, in addition to several banks and restaurants; leafleted banks, mortgage companies, fast-food outlets and lawyers’ offices with messages like “Viva la Unabomber” and “Actualize industrial collapse.”

Nearly 75 showed up at a Northwest anarchist conference in Eugene in June, and later that month eight police officers were injured when a downtown march called by the Anarchist Action Collective to smash computers and television sets turned into a riot. Rocks and bricks were hurled through bank signs, shop windows, a hotel and motorists’ cars in a street action that included more than 200 activists. Police responded with shields, batons and made 20 arrests.

The anarchists are mostly teens and twentysomethings with inclinations toward black clothing and punk rock. But their numbers include middle-age intellectuals, artists and writers. And Eugene’s entire activist community has joined with them on issues like the downtown trees, logging of national forests and animal rights. (It was probably the animal rights issue, businessmen say, that led to the smashing of the front window of a downtown furniture store advertising a “leather sale.”)

“I am not going to allow any group of . . . urban terrorists to make our city streets a place where people feel like they can’t be,” said Mayor Jim Torrey, who was vomited on at a City Council meeting by a defender of the downtown trees.

“Eugene can be categorized as a unique city . . . because we enable people of various points of view to feel comfortable in expressing themselves and feel comfortable in how they dress and where they convene,” Torrey said. “And to have an organization like the anarchists take advantage of that and create a situation where our streets are not safe–it has finally come to a point where the citizenry feels that enough is enough.”

The anarchists respond by saying that extreme times–high school shootings, corporate exploitation of Third World labor, destruction of native forests, genetic engineering of food–call for extreme measures.

“As governments and corporations continue to kill us, many–mainly leftist and liberal types–still carry an article of faith in creating change through playing by the rules and being ‘civil’ to the system. . . . In fact, one of the only reasons the state is getting away with what they’re doing today is because activists have quit using the revolutionary tactics of the 1960s,” a group of “anonymous, local anarchists” said in a statement in April.

“When a society is built on violence, violence is one of the only things that society can understand, and take seriously.”

Movement Can Be Traced to 18th Century

Anarchist thought goes back at least to the 18th century and has been an important undercurrent in Marxism, trade union syndicalism and in conflicts like the Spanish and Russian civil wars. “Anarchism, in my view, is an expression of the idea that the burden of proof is always on those who argue that authority and domination are necessary,” writes Chomsky, the MIT linguist and anarchist whose writings since the Vietnam War have helped keep anarchism prominent on the fringes of political thought.

There are small but active anarchist movements in cities as diverse as San Francisco, Detroit, New York, Kennebunkport, Maine, Ozark, Ala., and Hiram, Ga. But the anarchists of the 1990s are taking on technology and civilization itself as the enemies, in addition to capitalism and the state, said John Zerzan, a Eugene anarchist writer who hosts weekly meetings of the Black Army Faction at his small home in a leafy Whitaker alley.

“I do think in terms of going back, really. Of dismantling things–the whole modern system, the technological system. Otherwise, you’re not really talking about changing anything. You’re just hiding,” said Zerzan, 55, who attained a notoriety of sorts for his visits and correspondence with convicted Unabomber Theodore J. Kaczynski, with whom he says he enjoys an intellectual kinship.

The specter of police wielding pepper spray and batons in a progressive town like Eugene, Zerzan said, reflects the fact that Eugene’s anarchists have moved beyond traditional progressive politics, even in a town that sees frequent action by radical groups like Earth First! and the Animal Liberation Front.

“We’re not progressives. We’re not leftists. We’re not liberals. We are way past that,” Zerzan said.

Whitaker, the neighborhood that straddles the Union Pacific tracks on the fringes of downtown, has become the center for the anarchists and other more mainstream activist groups that occasionally share the anarchist agenda. It is a neighborhood of stately maples and rundown bungalows, organic markets and bakeries, batik curtains and herbal teahouses.

At a time when migration from California has driven up housing prices in Oregon, it is the low-rent district, and Whitaker residents aim to keep it that way.

A key element of the anarchist agenda is the rejection of the traditional 40-hour-a-week job and the consumerism, and resultant environmental devastation, that such jobs support. A good many homes have no phones or television sets.

Zerzan lives in a housing co-op and pays the bills by doing yard work and child care. Tim Lewis, a local videographer who has been sympathetic to the anarchist movement, co-founded the activist cable access program “Cascadia Alive” and does carpentry jobs. Before he married, he lived in a warehouse housing co-op where the rent was $100 a month. He got his VCR from a trash container.

“I think what you’re seeing here in the Northwest is . . . one of the last places where there are maybe still some wild places, and a lot of people–whether you call them anarchists or citizens–they’re really concerned about [preserving] these wild places,” Lewis, 43, said one recent afternoon spent, as he often spends summer afternoons, on the front porch with a book. “But it’s not just a single issue. You’re seeing classism everywhere. The rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer. And the kids are seeing that, and they’re getting angry.”

“There’s obviously a lot that needs to be dismantled. You’ve got to start by taking back as much as you can of your life . . . rely on yourself and your neighbors rather than the state and institutions,” said 17-year-old Eric, a member of the Black Army Faction who declined to give his last name. “School is just a place where you’re being coerced into this life of a yuppie workaholic.”

Eric wears the dreadlocks and black attire of the Eugene anarchists, who also wear black masks during street actions. Many others have adopted earrings, nose rings and lip rings.

Explaining the Allure of Being Radical

Dean Rimerman, a forest activist who has attempted to mediate between the violent and pacifist wings of Eugene, says he can understand the allure of radical action.

“As governments and corporations continue to kill us, many–mainly leftist and liberal types–still carry an article of faith in creating change through playing by the rules and being ‘civil’ to the system. . . . In fact, one of the only reasons the state is getting away with what they’re doing today is because activists have quit using the revolutionary tactics of the 1960s,” a group of “anonymous, local anarchists” said in a statement in April.

“When a society is built on violence, violence is one of the only things that society can understand, and take seriously.”

Movement Can Be Traced to 18th Century

Anarchist thought goes back at least to the 18th century and has been an important undercurrent in Marxism, trade union syndicalism and in conflicts like the Spanish and Russian civil wars. “Anarchism, in my view, is an expression of the idea that the burden of proof is always on those who argue that authority and domination are necessary,” writes Chomsky, the MIT linguist and anarchist whose writings since the Vietnam War have helped keep anarchism prominent on the fringes of political thought.

There are small but active anarchist movements in cities as diverse as San Francisco, Detroit, New York, Kennebunkport, Maine, Ozark, Ala., and Hiram, Ga. But the anarchists of the 1990s are taking on technology and civilization itself as the enemies, in addition to capitalism and the state, said John Zerzan, a Eugene anarchist writer who hosts weekly meetings of the Black Army Faction at his small home in a leafy Whitaker alley.

“I do think in terms of going back, really. Of dismantling things–the whole modern system, the technological system. Otherwise, you’re not really talking about changing anything. You’re just hiding,” said Zerzan, 55, who attained a notoriety of sorts for his visits and correspondence with convicted Unabomber Theodore J. Kaczynski, with whom he says he enjoys an intellectual kinship.

The specter of police wielding pepper spray and batons in a progressive town like Eugene, Zerzan said, reflects the fact that Eugene’s anarchists have moved beyond traditional progressive politics, even in a town that sees frequent action by radical groups like Earth First! and the Animal Liberation Front.

“We’re not progressives. We’re not leftists. We’re not liberals. We are way past that,” Zerzan said.

Whitaker, the neighborhood that straddles the Union Pacific tracks on the fringes of downtown, has become the center for the anarchists and other more mainstream activist groups that occasionally share the anarchist agenda. It is a neighborhood of stately maples and rundown bungalows, organic markets and bakeries, batik curtains and herbal teahouses.

At a time when migration from California has driven up housing prices in Oregon, it is the low-rent district, and Whitaker residents aim to keep it that way.

A key element of the anarchist agenda is the rejection of the traditional 40-hour-a-week job and the consumerism, and resultant environmental devastation, that such jobs support. A good many homes have no phones or television sets.

Zerzan lives in a housing co-op and pays the bills by doing yard work and child care. Tim Lewis, a local videographer who has been sympathetic to the anarchist movement, co-founded the activist cable access program “Cascadia Alive” and does carpentry jobs. Before he married, he lived in a warehouse housing co-op where the rent was $100 a month. He got his VCR from a trash container.

“I think what you’re seeing here in the Northwest is . . . one of the last places where there are maybe still some wild places, and a lot of people–whether you call them anarchists or citizens–they’re really concerned about [preserving] these wild places,” Lewis, 43, said one recent afternoon spent, as he often spends summer afternoons, on the front porch with a book. “But it’s not just a single issue. You’re seeing classism everywhere. The rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer. And the kids are seeing that, and they’re getting angry.”

“There’s obviously a lot that needs to be dismantled. You’ve got to start by taking back as much as you can of your life . . . rely on yourself and your neighbors rather than the state and institutions,” said 17-year-old Eric, a member of the Black Army Faction who declined to give his last name. “School is just a place where you’re being coerced into this life of a yuppie workaholic.”

Eric wears the dreadlocks and black attire of the Eugene anarchists, who also wear black masks during street actions. Many others have adopted earrings, nose rings and lip rings.

Explaining the Allure of Being Radical

Dean Rimerman, a forest activist who has attempted to mediate between the violent and pacifist wings of Eugene, says he can understand the allure of radical action.

##########################################

Last article

From Eugene Weekly. November 2006:

Flames of Dissent
The local spark that ignited an eco-sabotage boom — and bust
STORY BY KERA ABRAHAM. PHOTOS BY KURT JENSEN.

Part II: Eco-Anarchy Rising

White powder exploded onto Randy Shadowalker’s chest and face. He couldn’t breathe; his throat and lungs felt like they’d been set on fire from the inside. The 31-year-old eco-activist fell to the ground, clutching a maple branch in his hand, only to be roughly ordered back up by the policeman who had shot him with tear gas powder. Coughing and drooling and dripping snot, he struggled to his feet and staggered through a cloud of tear gas, the cop shoving his bony body from behind.

EUGENE POLICE USED PEPPER SPRAY ON PROTESTERS, JUNE 1, 1997
ONE OF THE MAPLE TREES CUT AT THE BROADWAY AND LINCOLN SITE, JUNE 1, 1997
TRAVERSING A LINE 185 FEET UP, FALL CREEK 1998
ON THE SET OF CASCADIA ALIVE!
TAKING IT TO THE STREETS, EUGENE 1998

It was the morning of June 1, 1997, and hundreds of Eugene citizens had gathered downtown to witness the cutting of 40 large trees to make way for a parking garage. Inside the fenced-off lot, Earth First!ers and Cascadia Forest Defenders perched in doomed trees: sweet gum, bigleaf maple, black walnut, redwood. While the cops outside the fence pushed back the crowd, those inside plucked the protesters out of the trees with a fire truck lift, blinding them with pepper spray. Down came Lacey Phillabaum, Jeff Hogg, Mick Garvin, Josh Laughlin and others. A logger followed the fire truck, cutting each tree after its occupant descended.

Jim Flynn, about 30 feet high in an old sweet gum, was the last one left. A fireman and two police officers emptied about a dozen canisters of pepper spray on him in roughly an hour, twisting his foot, pulling his hair, cutting his pants to spray his bare leg. When he finally came down, Flynn peeled off his chemical-drenched clothes and stood with his arms outstretched as the cops blasted his body with a fire hose. The water just spread the burning oil; every inch of his skin was on fire.

Tim Lewis peered at the scene through a video camera, digging Flynn’s Jesus Christ-like pose. He would air this footage on Cascadia Alive!, a public access TV show that he and fellow activist Tim Ream had started up 10 months ago, in the last weeks of the Warner Creek road blockade. The eco-radicals would gain some major public sympathy points from the protest — and the city would think twice before taking out a swath of old trees again.

Cascadia had brought its act to town.

 

Whiteaker in late 1997 was a hot hash of radicals. There were the forest defenders, mostly twenty- and thirtysomething hippies high on the victory of Warner Creek; the gutter punk anarchists, who rocked out on loud music and white drugs; and the resident artists, who’d been coloring up the neighborhood for years. Icky’s Teahouse, a grimy free-for-all joint on Third and Blair, was a hangout of choice for all three.

It was a time of intense community-building for the eco-anarchists, who roved between neighborhood hot spots like Tiny Tavern, Out of the Fog café, Scobert Park and a crop of housing co-ops. Warner Creek vet Stella-Lee Anderson launched the Jawbreaker gallery to showcase neighborhood creations, and artist Kari Johnson painted post-apocalyptic feminist visions on Whiteaker walls. Johnson led eco-activists to tear up a parking space and turn it into a community garden — Joni Mitchell’s dystopic vision in reverse — while Critical Mass bikers, empowered by their numbers, reclaimed the streets from cars. Activists shared knowledge at “Free Schools” and guerrilla info shops, neighbors swapped clothes at a community free space and Food Not Bombs brought free vegetarian meals to local parks daily.

“I think everybody had their own vision of what was going on,” Johnson said, “but what I saw tying it all together was making an alternative to hierarchical, capitalist society, and trying to have a communalist ethic.”

As the community knit itself tighter, independent media projects beamed Whiteaker’s energy out to the world. Eco-radicals including Tim Lewis, Cindy Noblitt, Randy Shadowalker and Robin “Rotten” Terranova produced the weekly live TV show Cascadia Alive!, featuring a hodgepodge of guest ranters, musical acts, indie activist footage and call-in segments. The show also aired footage from local CopWatch activists — namely Lewis, James Johnston and Kookie-Steve Heslin — who dogged Eugene police with their video cameras.

Cascadia Alive! was really putting grease on the fire of the activist scene,” Shadowalker said. “People started coming to us for news. The local media feared us; the cops feared us. But every time they tried to mess with us, it just grew the army of resistance.”

That surge of creative, autonomous energy attracted fresh new blood to town, eco-anarchists ready for action. They’d heat up not only the streets of Eugene but also the surrounding forests, staging direct actions and road blockades that would make Warner Creek seem vanilla by comparison.

 

The activists worked busily in the rosy light of a May 1997 dawn, stringing two ropes across a highway near Detroit, Ore. — one roughly 3 feet off the road and the other about 75 feet high. The structure was designed so that if a vehicle hit the low rope, two women dangling in harnesses from the high rope would fall. They were protesting the Sphinx logging project in the Santiam watershed.

Right before they finished setting up, the lookouts down the road started screaming. A truck was rolling down the highway, and it didn’t show signs of stopping. When it came within 70 feet of the rope, Shannon Wilson — a determined forest defender who had been a core part of the Warner Creek blockade — stood in its path. The truck slowed to about 5 miles per hour and swerved around him, coming so close that he was able to smack its headlight, and finally stopped. The shaken activists lowered the women to safety, gathered their gear and split.

“I didn’t see a lot of those people after that,” Wilson said. “They were too scared to do anything. It basically killed the campaign.”

Lacey Phillabaum would remember that near-fatal moment in a Nov.-Dec. 1998 Earth First! Journal editorial: “I have seen an activist come nose to grill with a Mack truck at a protest and believed for an endless moment that the trucker would not stop.” An activist had recently been killed by a logger in California, and Phillabaum was beginning to question the “cultural promise” of civil disobedience: that if eco-activists nonviolently laid their bodies on the line, no one would willingly harm them.

Fear of injury hadn’t slowed the Cascadia Forest Defenders, who harnessed the Warner Creek energy to protest a string of timber sales in the late ’90s, their names Oregonian poetry: First and Last, Horse Byars, Red 90, Olalla Wildcat, China Left, Winberry, Growl & Howl. They’d saved some trees and mourned the rest.

But none of those campaigns stand out like the Fall Creek blockade, launched in spring 1998 to stop the Clark timber sale in Willamette National Forest. The dominant crew at the camp was a group of crusty, itinerant punks in their teens and early twenties, some of them happy just to have a free crash-pad and food. Others, however, were experienced activists out to save trees by any means necessary.

The Fall Creek tree-sitters generally rejected the unspoken code of nonviolence that had guided the Warner Creek campaign just a few years earlier. They fought with Forest Service officers (or “freddies,” as they called them), pissed on them from the trees, even staged a fake hanging to freak them out. Some of the punks trashed the camp, letting their dogs fight and hump and tear up the forest understory. Tree-dwelling flying squirrels burrowed into their sleeping bags, ransacked their food and fell into their compost buckets. At times the activists got dangerously drunk hundreds of feet off the ground, and once a propane tank blew up in a tree-sit.

Earth First!ers and Cascadia Forest Defenders, sensing the hard edge, generally distanced themselves from the campaign while still supporting it with food and supplies. The tree-sitters were, after all, braving freddies and foul weather to keep chainsaws out of the forest. Dubbing their camp Red Cloud Thunder Free State, the Fall Creek tree-sitters embraced their role as the outcasts of the Earth First! movement, viewing themselves as the real revolutionaries — the ones who were ready to push beyond civil disobedience.

 

As punks defended the forest and eco-anarchists rollicked in Whiteaker, the Eugene-based Earth First! Journal editors — including Jim Flynn and Lacey Phillabaum — put the local movement into a larger context. They gathered news of civil disobedience and eco-sabotage actions in Europe, South America, Asia and all over the U.S., examining the intersections of labor, civil rights and anti-consumerism movements. Earth First! was growing, if painfully.

The EF!J ran a feature called “Earth Night News,” which announced sabotage actions claimed by the Earth Liberation Front and other covert actors. ELF had been conceived in England in 1992, when eco-activists decided to sever controversial sabotage actions from the civil disobedience-oriented Earth First!. The Sept.-Oct. 1993 EF!J introduced ELF as “a movement of independently operating eco-saboteurs.”

Earth Night actions spanned the globe, but in the late 90’s an especially methodical cluster struck the Pacific Northwest. It began on Oct. 28, 1996, when arsonists torched a Forest Service pickup truck in Detroit, Ore. They also attempted to burn down the ranger station, but the fuel-filled plastic jug on the roof didn’t ignite. Spray-painted on the building was a tag American police hadn’t seen before: “ELF.”

Only two days later, arson struck the Forest Service ranger station in Oakridge, Ore. The building burned from the four corners into the middle — seemingly a professional job. The father of the Warner Creek campaign, Tim Ingalsbee, was crushed: years of his documentation of the Warner Creek Fire had been in that building.

Arsons followed at several BLM wild horse corrals, a slaughterhouse, a wildlife research station, a Vail ski resort, a forestry office in Medford, a meat company in Eugene. No one was hurt in any of the actions, but communiqués condemned the targets as “Earth-rapers” who deserved what they got.

The EF!J also ran “Dear Ned Ludd” columns, which offered detailed tips for carrying out sabotage actions like tree-spiking, electrical tower blow-outs and arsons with time-delayed fire-starters. A disclaimer noted that EF! didn’t necessarily endorse such enterprises, but the journal’s overall tone was supportive.

Ingalsbee argued with the EF!J editors about celebrating arson. “Fire is a mystical force that you release; you better be prepared to deal with the consequences,” he said. “You set up other humans to come attack you.” But many of the journal’s contributors defended ecotage, viewing property destruction as a wake-up call to the self-obliterating masses.

Phillabaum grew weary of so much debate and so little action, and after three years she left the journal, publishing her official sign-off in the March-April 1999 issue. “I’ve found and discarded all sorts of different visions of this movement, seeing us as everything from nonviolent revolutionaries to disgruntled, dysfunctional outcasts … [but] I think the depth of our passion and the sincerity of our commitment is what distinguishes Earth First!,” she wrote. “I look forward to seeing you again soon — on the frontlines.”

 

The concept of righteous sabotage was blowing up among Eugene’s most hard-core eco-anarchists and their out-of-town allies, who staged increasingly bolder riots: throwing bricks through banks and McDonald’s joints, trashing the Nike store on 5th Avenue, lighting fires in Dumpsters and setting up confrontations with police.

Disrupting traffic and smashing property were sure-fire ways to bring the cops; the media would invariably follow, providing the anarchists with free press. Some of the rioters would wear Zapatista-inspired bandanas which, besides obscuring their identities in front of police cameras, told the world that at least some Americans were ready for revolution. “Global capitalism is everybody’s problem, and nobody’s doing anything about it,” reasoned activist Chris Calef. “If it’s violence and mayhem [that bring attention to the issues], then fuck it.”

EPD Detective Bob Holland remembered those days as tense. “We saw a huge influx of out-of-town anarchist types: real scary, hard-core, punk-lookin’ people who were clearly not from Eugene,” he said. “There was all this tension going on in the Northwest, and here in Eugene we seemed to be at the epicenter.”

The police weren’t the only ones to take on the punks. Whiteaker vigilante Dennis Ramsey, a self-described ex-anarchist then in his mid-40s, viewed the eco-anarchists as “organized mayhem in the guise of liberty” who were trashing the neighborhood. He and others convinced the landlord of Icky’s Teahouse not to renew its lease, shutting it down in the summer of 1997. Ramsey then turned to the task of cleaning up Scobert Park, which he saw as a drug-infested “crime magnet,” and joined a successful neighborhood push to temporarily close it. Eco-anarchists responded by setting up tents and occupying the park.

Vandals targeted the Red Barn, a local natural food store then owned by Ramsey’s former girlfriend. “I let [the anarchists] know, eye to eye, that if they pulled that shit on me I would murder them in the streets,” Ramsey said. “For the first time in my life, I had to carry a concealed weapon.”

As riots became more regular in Whiteaker, black-clad badasses began to bait law enforcement. “People were very empowered,” activist James Johnston explained. “We were gonna fight the police.” And the CopWatch activists would videotape it.

“We kept on seeing night after night the Tim Lewis stuff [on Cascadia Alive!],” EPD Detective Holland said. “The way it was cut and edited, we were like ‘Wait a minute. It didn’t happen that way.’ So we started our own video unit.” Holland and Lewis had a few silent confrontations at protests, each man videotaping the other.

The cat-and-mouse game would take a grave turn on June 18, 1999, during what started out as an anti-globalization event. The leaders of the industrialized world were meeting in Cologne, Germany, and activists planned protests in 160 cities. Local organizers had notified the EPD ahead of time, promising to be peaceful; in response, police scaled back their planned presence and closed off Willamette Street.

Hundreds of people showed up, reveling in the joy of smashing VCRs and computers in the street. Soon the protesters began roving, looking for nefarious corporations to target. Some rioters started jumping on cars and breaking windows of businesses they deemed evil — a bank, a furniture store, Taco Bell. A few looted 7-Eleven and brought out beer for the hot and hungry crowd. “People felt like the energy was there to crack the system, find the break in the dam, start a revolution,” Lewis said.

About four hours into the riot police confronted the protesters at Washington-Jefferson Park, shooting tear gas powder at them — but the wind blew back toward the police. “After a few minutes the cops were just wandering around in a cloud of tear gas,” said Rob Thaxton, an anarchist who was at the scene. “People started throwing rocks and other things at them.”

A group of more than 100 rioters ditched the police and roved on for several more hours, looping between downtown and Whiteaker. They figured that as long as they stayed together the cops couldn’t mess with them, but if they split up they’d be arrested. When they reached 7th Avenue and Jefferson Street, police made their move, throwing the rioters to the ground, pepper-spraying and arresting them.

Thaxton stood there and watched, furious, then picked up a big landscaping rock with plans to smash it through a squad car window. When a cop came running toward him, Thaxton threw the rock at the cop “to try to deter him.” He was arrested and sentenced to seven years in prison for assault with a deadly weapon.

The police, for their part, had learned a lesson: to increase their “stand-by” presence at all rallies, even the ones that were supposed to be peaceful. “We met people halfway on this one and got burned really badly,” EPD’s Holland said. “That really influenced the way things happened later on. It just seemed like the anarchist community was ready to go to war with the cops.”

In a sense, they were. The eco-anarchist community had built up its power like tinder in the streets of Whiteaker, with the ambitious goal of snapping Americans out of their destructive, consumptive, self-imprisoning cycles. They wanted to ignite a revolution.

Soon, the world would notice.

#######################################

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One Response to ‘The Whit’ neighborhood in Eugene – gentrification & history

  1. Donnie says:

    As a longtime resident, I can say that all of the attention that Whiteaker has received in the last few years bodes ill for the future. In 20 years, I have rarely seen a luxury car parked on Blair. Now , every weekend, it is clogged with midsize luxury sedans and fat whites in $80 polo shirts. My rent has increased twice in the last six months, after being the same for 5 years. The only people that all this business is good for are the business owners and land holders. The things that have made this neighborhood great for decades, working class creative types and a tolerance for people with mental illness and drug problems, are the very things that will disappear in a heartbeat once the gentrification hits full stride. At this rate, this neighborhood will be solely college students and single young professionals (yuppies) within a decade. I truly love this community, and encourage anyone else who does to be as unwelcoming as possible to the tourists. Besides, why should we welcome them here to spend money and get a thrill “slumming it” when I’m quite certain that the police would be called if any of us did the same and milled around in their gated communities.

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