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Published: 4/6/2003

Traffic-stoppers on the left coast

The sporadic anti-war demonstrations around northwest Ohio have had little more than a passing impact on locals, but in my hometown of Portland, Ore. - where they really know how to throw a protest - things have gotten interesting.

Relatives have been calling to remark about the unexpected effectiveness of a new tactic - where a bunch of people walk out onto a major thoroughfare and then sit down in the middle of the street.

Sit-ins are nothing new, of course, but in Portland - where they protest if there aren't three Starbucks at each intersection - they have never before been such traffic-stoppers. Until now.

Seeing their effectiveness, protesters multiplied their efforts.

It has gotten so bad that lawmakers have stepped in and have drafted a bill in the Oregon Senate that brands violators as terrorists and threatens 25 years imprisonment - for sitting in the middle of a Portland street or blocking the bridges spanning the Willamette River downtown during rush hour as was done recently.

The legislation turns on a new reality out there, where the attitude seems to be: “Go ahead and burn the American flag and break downtown shop windows. Just don't make me late for my next latte. HONK!”

Maybe those people are just getting too much caffeine.

Relatives relayed local news reports that Portland police are reluctant to intervene to break up protests for fear they will be charged with brutality.

State Sen. Charlie Ringo, a Democrat from stylish Beaverton - a Portland suburb that is home to Nike and legendary traffic jams that need no protesters to get them started - opposes the bill, saying on a recent edition of Fox News' O'Reilly Factor that it would “limit the civil liberties of even nonviolent protesters,” according to a Ringo press release.

“I think if someone commits a violent act, they should be punished,” the senator said. “We already have plenty of laws on the books to take care of violent acts.”

Conservatives back the bill, turning political philosophies on their heads. In this case, Democrats want limited government and personal freedom, while Republicans want government intervention to deal with a pressing concern.

With Democrat Ted Kulongoski sitting in the governor's chair, the bill will likely go nowhere.

The state government created great controversy several years ago when its tourism department unveiled its new ad campaign that played on the state's natural beauty using the slogan: “Things look different here.”

No one liked it. Lawmakers in Salem, suddenly overcome with creative juices, seemed sure they could come up something better and threatened to cut funding for the ad campaign.

But it is true. Things look very different there. Especially now, at rush hour.

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Looking for something else myself, I stumbled last week across an obscure U.S. House roll call vote held on Jan. 8 in which congressmen voted 404 to 1 to pass a resolution congratulating the Ohio State University football team for winning the Division 1-A national championship.

The resolution, which carries no weight but is no doubt suitable for framing, was introduced by Rep. Deborah Pryce, a Columbus Republican.

Wisconsin Republican James Sensenbrenner was the only one to vote against it. He did not respond to calls seeking comment on the matter.

What caught my eye was that Toledo Rep. Marcy Kaptur did not cast a vote.

A top Kaptur staffer assured that there is no truth to the idea that - as an alumnus of the University of Michigan - she was blinded by the maize and blue when given a chance to confer congratulations on the scarlet and gray. Her office says that, though it's been a while, she thinks she was called away for an important call.

Rep. John Dingell, a Democrat who represents Ann Arbor, voted in favor of the resolution, as did all five Miami congressmen, whose team lost to Ohio State in the national championship game.

Rep. Paul Gillmor (R., Old Fort), who might have taken more interest in the topic - since he owns a home in the Columbus suburb of Dublin - also missed the vote.



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