On Vortex I in 1970 by Nicholas von Hoffman

(I will wrap up my look back at Vortex I with a column written by someone who attended the festival. Of all the pieces I read about the event, this was the best one and pretty much right on the mark.)

The Washington Post, Monday, August 31, 1970–A Poster column by Nicholas von Hoffman

Two Legions In Portland

Portland, Ore., Aug. 26—It was BC—Before Chicago—when the chamber of commerce invited the American Legion to its 52nd annual convention here this week. In the meantime, a lot of bloody political history was made on the streets of other cities so that, as the Legion prepared to arrive, Portland began to suffer hysterics.

Stories in the underground press suggested it might be mellow to have a counter convention, and there was much apprehensive talk of thousands of long-haired savages coming to trash this pleasant, middle-sized metropolis where the forests from the surrounding mountains penetrate to the verge of downtown.

It was a frightening prospect—mobs of Yippies and other mobs of drunken Legionnaires meeting each other under hotel canopies. The impending mess seemed to finalize itself into inevitability with the formation of the People’s Army Jamboree, a chaotic, counter-convention group of uncertain purpose, amorphously led by a rotating cast of young people who think the world is on an ego trip and so all call themselves coordinators. On the other side, Terry Schrunk, the mayor of Portland, issued a special, unwelcome visitors brochure entitled “Peace has its price in Portland.”

Decorated with doves, this insulting piece of literature informs the youthful tourist that any activity other than quiet, rhythmic breathing is illegal here. “If you are poking around somewhere and a police officer thinks you look suspicious, he might stop you…the law says he can…When three or more of you are getting a mite more fractious than necessary, you will probably be told by a police officer to disperse. He is not doing that to just hear his good, rich baritone nor yours…We don’t like unpleasantries. The city code, section 14.28.010 spells that out…So we suggest that you take any threatening behavior and unreasonable loud noises somewhere else. Like the wide open spaces.”\

Chicago seemed to be repeating itself in the Pacific Northwest. There were the same arguments over parade permits and permission to use the parks to sleep in. The only difference was that here a group of worried citizens, composed of a few younger and less vehement politicals and a smattering of liberal Republicans, interposed themselves to work out a way of securing public order and free expression.

They had some success because the People’s Army Jamboree backed off sounding bellicose, and the authorities relented. Two parade permits were granted, permission was given to camp in one of the parks, and then Gov. Tom McCall made McIver State Park, near here, available for a rock festival which got itself named Vortex I. It was announced that the stare police and young people would share the chore of policing this diversionary gathering, which is to continue until the legion is safely out of town next Thursday. The Portland area disc jockeys began talking the thing up, and it soon became apparent that the drug laws would be suspended at McIver.

The jamboree, seeing young people clear out of town under a combination of the threat of tough police action and the pull of free music and dope in the woods, has been screaming “cooptation!” Bribery might be a more fitting word. The governor’s office denies supplying the dope or the money for the music, but the free festival is certainly being put on with every kind of encouragement from the authorities. There is even a rumor going around that McCall has a National Guard helicopter loaded with rose petals to be dump on the 20,000-plus people floating around the vortex if they remained stoned, tranquilized and cooperatively absent from the city for a few more days.

The corporal’s guard of politicals remaining here in Portland is sending what it calls affinity groups out to McIver to plead with people to put their clothes back on and make a little less love and a wee bit more war. Runners also have been dispatched across the nearby border into the state of Washington to the Sky River Rock Festival, but the music, dope and scenery here appear to have greater appeal. The multitudes are staying put.

There still can be trouble in Portland. There’s no defense against the lone dynamiter or act of terrorism by a small group. The day before yesterday, three White Panthers were arrested for having a sawed-off shotgun and a couple of M-1s. With so much press here, a couple of broken windows or a few wild punches may create the impression that a lot of bad stuff is happening.

Even so, Portland could come to be regarded as a model for other places and situations. That would be a mistake. Tough talk and procrastination with parade permits doesn’t always cut down the size of the crowd as the Washington moratorium last fall showed; an alternative rock festival wouldn’t have averted Chicago; finagling with dope enforcement is too transparent and ineffective because people in large numbers can safely smoke it anywhere and are as likely to at a demonstration as at a rock festival.

The mood here is wrong for massive manifestations. The country is too beautiful, the Oregonians too polite and civilized, the Legionnaires too well behaved to irritate their would-be opponents. Excluding a few incidents, there will be peace in Portland, First Amendment rights will be protected. Thanks to some benign manipulation by public officials and a happy conjunction of the stars, we will have gotten over another hump, but hump jumping isn’t the same as problem solving.