After the years’ long shake down…Alan Graf(t) heads to: A Commune

December 1, 2005


The man who sued the City of Portland for hundreds of thousands of dollars because protesters at a Bush rally didn’t follow directions and got pepper sprayed
(see the left over tagging in NW Portland which reads: “They Pepper sprayed babies!”) is apparently done shaking down ‘the man.’

The Portland Tribune has profiled Graf who now says he’s leaving to go to a Tennessee commune.

Graf says it’s been real, but now it’s time to be real. This, he now acknowledges, is in contrast to the way he conducted himself in Portland.

“I started realizing that if you want to effect societal change … you can’t just do it in the courts.” You also have to do it in the streets. Do it for the television cameras. “The court of public opinion — that’s what makes politicians change,” Graf says. “When constituents are calling them.” They won’t be calling anymore — at least not in Portland. At least not because of Graf-inspired street theater.

Graf is leaving town. The man who calls himself “the hippie lawyer” is returning to his roots. He’s going back to the Farm in Tennessee, a 34-year-old Earth-friendly, alternative community where he lived for a dozen years beginning in the 1970s, and through which he traveled to Guatemala in the early 1980s to build schools and put in water systems. It’s about as far from the media spotlight — and street theater — as anyone could get. The in-your-face political activist and lawyer appears to be undertaking a new phase. “I want to put my energy into building, as a contrast to fighting,” Graf says. “Fighting the system is tiring.”

…In December, the city agreed to settle the lawsuit Graf and a team of lawyers had filed on behalf of 12 plaintiffs who claimed police used excessive force against them during a protest of President Bush’s visit to Portland in August 2002 and during two antiwar marches seven months later. While the lawsuit never went to trial, the plaintiffs’ case was bolstered by videotapes showing police pepper-spraying people who appeared to be protesting legally and peacefully. Eventually, the city agreed to pay the plaintiffs $300,000 in damages. And a federal judge in May ordered the city to pay Graf and his legal team another $545,000 in attorney fees.

In Graf’s view, the case amplified how the court of public opinion is as important, maybe more important, than any court of law. “One of the reasons the city settled … they got their butt kicked in the court of public opinion,” Graf says. City lawyers recommended that the City Council approve the $300,000 settlement last December — which it did — to avoid the possibility of a larger jury verdict against the city

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