Social justice, parks, protest, Depression, organized labor, public space, Portland, Plaza Park
During the Great Depression, Portland's working class joined in the national surge of radicalism to fight for economic relief and social justice. One of organized labor’s most effective strategies was to stage mass demonstrations in highly visible public spaces, such as Plaza Park adjacent City Hall in downtown. Rallying in city parks represented workers’ determination to exercise their free speech in spite of Red Scare suppression of leftist radicals. This essay explores the role of public parks in the history of the labor movement in Portland during the Depression, primarily focusing on Plaza Park since it was a hub for radical activity. Examining Plaza Park through a spatial analysis highlights the critical role of this downtown public space, and also underscores the reasoning behind labor’s strategy of using language that hinged on freedom of speech and survival. Beyond Plaza Park, workers utilized an array of indoor and outdoor meeting spaces for recreation and community building that often went hand in hand with the movement’s political mobilization. Through the organizing that took place in these urban green spaces, Portland laborers built solidarity with the community’s most marginalized groups, forming alliances across racial and ethnic lines. I argue that public parks were vital sites for the labor movement in which workers organized to demand relief, exercised their freedom of speech, strengthened communal ties, and fought for collective liberation.
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"“For the Right to Live”: Radical Activity in Portland’s Parks During the Great Depression,"
1, Article 5.