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.



Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.

Persistent Identifier




To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.