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Portland Mayor Sam Adams re-opened Main Street in downtown Portland Thursday morning, but wouldn’t elaborate on what he would do with campers who have occupied two public squares for more than a week now and plan to do so indefinitely. They are part of the Occupy Wall Street protest that started Sept. 17 in New York.
"There are now Occupy Wall Street camps in hundreds of cities across the United States," Adams said, "and mayors and police chiefs across the United States are having to make practical day-to-day decisions about keeping the peace, protecting people's legal rights to freedom of expression and at the same time keeping this city and all cities moving."
We know Occupy Wall Street protests have spread wildly and widely, but were there actually protest camps in hundreds of U.S. cities? That struck PolitiFact Oregon as a touch on the big side. We set out to find out just how many cities are involved in this growing movement.
It turns out answers vary. The website for "Occupy Together," which serves as a hub for people sympathetic to the protests, says there are "Occupy Together Meetups" in more than 1,500 cities. But an "Occupy Wall Street" post Friday says protests have spread to a much smaller "over 100 cities."
ABC World News anchor Diane Sawyer put the figure at more than 250 U.S. cities (before getting ridiculed for saying it had spread to more than a thousand countries). A CBS News report pegged the spread at 145 cities. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Mayors didn’t have an estimate of cities with protests -- camps or otherwise. You get the picture.
So we contacted the mayor’s spokeswoman, Amy Ruiz, who added one more figure to the mix: a link to an Oct. 4 post on DailyKos, which mapped "Occupy" groups in 200 cities, categorized by state. Those turned out to be links to Facebook pages and websites, and there were close to 300 organizations. But the post didn’t quite back up the mayor’s assertion about camps. While some linked to groups with occupying camps, like the one in Portland, others were a lot less developed.
Next, we scoured Associated Press stories, looking for local reports of "Occupy Wall Street" events. In the last week we found about 65 cities mentioned, from Trenton, N.J., to Seaside, Ore. The number of cities with protest camps is smaller, with some over-nighters to start Oct. 15. (Check out Occupy Eugene.) Again, a strikeout.
Finally, we found an interactive map on Mother Jones’ website. As of Friday afternoon, it listed more than 200 locations, including a handful outside the United States. Again, the notes for each city range from a call to observe the global Oct. 15 event in the Tri-Cities, Wash., to reports of protesters arrested in at least a dozen cities. (Portland is in that rare group.)
So, where did that leave us?
We called Ruiz. She said the mayor stands by his statement that there are hundreds of U.S. mayors trying to figure out how to balance speech rights with public safety as Occupy Wall Street events spread nationally. But she clarified that he was referring to the entire range of protests, from full-fledged to nascent.
"Hundreds of mayors are dealing with this issue," Ruiz said.
That could be. But hundreds of mayors are not dealing with indefinite "occupation" camps, at least not yet. And that was the word that triggered our fact check. The thing is, we don’t know how many mayors are dealing with Occupy Wall Street events, whether it’s more than 100, which is not hundreds, or in the 200 to 300 range, as some sites say.
Throw in Adams’ specific claim about protest camps, and we rule the mayor’s statement Mostly False. As of Oct. 13, there were not camps in hundreds of cities across the United States. But there may be hundreds of mayors dealing with the issue. The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.
DailyKos, "Occupy Wall Street: List and map of over 200 U.S. solidarity events and Facebook pages," Oct. 4, 2011
Mediaite, "Huh? Diane Sawyer Claims Wall Street Protests Have Spread To ‘Thousands Of Countries’ (UPDATE)," Oct. 11, 2011
USA Today, "Boston protesters busted; N.Y. activists plan march on homes," Oct. 11, 2011
Mother Jones, "Map: Occupy Wall Street Spreads Worldwide, Arrests on the Rise," Oct. 12, 2011
The Oregonian, "Portland police remove Occupy Portland protesters from downtown street," Oct. 13, 2011
Occupy Wall Street, "#OWS VICTORY: The people have prevailed, gear up for global day of action," Oct. 14, 2011
CBS News, "‘Occupy Wall Street’ inspires protests in other cities," Oct. 14, 2011
Occupy Together, "F.A.Q."
Emails from and interview with Amy Ruiz, spokeswoman Portland Mayor Sam Adams, Oct. 13-14, 2011
Email from Lina Garcia, spokeswoman U.S. Conference of Mayors, Oct. 13, 2011
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