Two Years Later, Portland’s ‘Last Occupier’ Still Going Strong

57-year-old pastor Jose Serrica is fighting for the rights of the homeless. And he's not leaving anytime soon.

  • Share
  • Read Later
Natalie Behring / Getty Images

Hundreds Occupy Portland members protest as part of the "Occupy the Ports" event on December 12, 2011.

For most Americans, the phenomenon of Occupy Wall Street is nothing more than a vague memory of cardboard signs, tents, and 99%-related slogans. But for Portland, Oregon resident and Pastor Jose Serrica, the struggle is ongoing, and he’s not about to give up.

The Occupy Wall Street movement officially started almost two years ago on September 17th, 2011 in New York City‘s Zuccotti park. The protests, which sought to force financial reform and stand up for the economic rights of average Americans, touched a nerve in the zeitgeist and proceeded to spread from NYC to Chicago, Oakland, and even across the Atlantic. However, Occupy’s chosen tactic of essentially camping out in public spaces tended to draw more scorn than sympathy from annoyed residents as protests dragged on, and the lack of a single agenda — something occupiers took pride in — lead to an increasingly incoherent message. Police forces across the nation soon lost their patience, and protesters in Portland were kicked out of their makeshift camp two months after the protests began.

But, as Bloomberg Businessweek reports, when other protesters left, Serrica didn’t go with them. He has given away most of possessions, including his motorcycle, furniture, TV, and much of his wardrobe, and spends each night in a sleeping bag in front of City Hall. By day, he stands on the street with his dog and streams protests online with his smartphone.

In many ways, Serrica embodies the Occupy movement’s prototypical victim of the financial system. As he explained to Willamette Week, Serrica lost his church to foreclosure before the protests began, and was laid off from his job at a convenience store. When he learned about Occupy, Serrica immediately purchased a tent and headed to the park.

Yet, as the protests continued, Serrica and some of his fellow occupiers began to change their agenda. Rather than demand financial reform, the pastor became committed to fighting for the rights of the homeless — or as he calls them, the houseless. On March 1st of this year, Serrica promised to spend a year on the street to raise awareness of their plight. His comrades had left, but Serrica remained. While he may be Occupy’s only member still snoozing on the sidewalk, Businessweek reports that he has plenty of support. Occupy Portland has largely re-oriented around helping the homeless, the pastor receives food and coffee from sympathetic establishments, and donations fund his cell phone service. Friends have even allowed him to shower and wash his clothes at their houses.

According Serrica, the homeless are the one group of people toward whom bigotry is socially acceptable. “The amount of discrimination that’s been perpetrated on homeless people for so long—if we were all black, it wouldn’t happen,” Serrica told Willamette Week. “We lack basic representation to get standing as a minority group. If we can get standing as a minority group, then we can get protection.” He also warns that unless true change is achieved, peaceful protesting might give way to violence.

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable,” said Serrica. “I’m 57, but look around at all these young kids. They’re starting to get hip to what we’re doing. You can either deal with the peaceful aspect of this revolution, or you can deal with the upcoming violent generation, because they’re pissed off.”

However, despite the rhetoric, the man who Businessweek calls the “last remaining Occupier” appears to be happier than ever. Even after his one-year protest is over, Serrica says he won’t be leaving. “This is the best time in my life. I feel like I’m free,” he told the publication. “I’m not going to go back into the systemic workforce, plain and simple.”

If it’s up to Serrica, the occupation may never truly end.

MORE: Occupy Wall Street One Year Later: Protestors Return to the Movement’s Roots