June 28, 2008
It was back in the 1960s when what has since been known as the
"granola curtain'' came ringing down around this quiet campus town,
trapping within it a tradition of activism, political correctness,
environmental concerns, easy outrage and today's "green'' everything.
The curtain has risen but slightly since those halcyon days, and if
outsiders call the place a time warp, and many do, a lot of Eugeneans
That's changing somewhat, but remnants of the old days are in full
flower around Hayward Field, where 1,100 athletes are competing for
spots on the U.S. Olympic Track and Field team and a trip to Beijing.
Medieval-type pennants flutter from some pointy-topped tents in and
around the Eugene 08 Festival, where those who couldn't get tickets
can watch the competition free on a giant screen.
Organizers called it a "Eugene thing'' to do, letting those with no
tickets watch the games just yards historic Hayward Field, where the
late coach Bill Bowerman and a long string of running greats such as
Steve Prefontaine propelled Oregon to world prominence and gave
Eugene a title that has stuck: "Track Town USA.''
"Home of thee hardest team to make,'' boasts more than one sign.
Still, with the town's reputation, there wasn't a lot of activism
going on. Only a handful of protesters were on hand to voice
opposition to the Olympics being held in Beijing. A few signs pointed
to China's treatment of Tibet and supplying arms in Darfur.
The peaceful scene was in contrast to some of the protests that
occurred on the tour of the Olympic torch.
In all, the focus seemed to be on green issues.
The Eugene Water and Electric Board fills othewrwise-landfill-bound
plastic water bottle free, and a Safeway tent offers generator bikes
where volunteers can crank out enough electricity to power the
display, with the slop-over going into storage batteries.
The grocery chain touts its plans to rely more on solar energy.
Strolling pamphleteers implore passers-by favoring a free Tibet to
protest holding the games in China, as did opponents of Chinese
movements against the Falaun Gong philosophy and a group with a model
Darfur refugee camp built to protest Chinese sales of arms to Sudan
that are used against the refugees in what is widely considered genocide.
"China wants the Olympics to take attention away from Tibet,'' said
Tsering Paledn,'' who heads a "Free Tibet'' movement in New York and
But political literature was confiscated at the entry to Eugene 08
and Code Pink, a group of mostly middle-age ladies wearing vests
proclaiming "Sports Games, Not War Games'' said the knew better than
to even try.
"We're outrageous women doing outrageous things to stop this
outrageous war,'' Said Bryna Livingston.
Inside, the U.S. Army had a large recruiting display, stressing not
Iraq but the fact that the Army had placed 51 athletes in the last
six Olympic games and asking who might be next.
A barefoot girl was one of many who tried to make it to the top of
the Army's makeshift climbing wall.
"That's Army-strong,'' yelled a supporter. `Come on, soldier,''
She got about a third of the way up.
But generally, it was all so clean, so correct, so green, so - Eugene.
There was not a whiff of the thrice-used deep-frying oil and Elephant
Ear stands that normally show up, no loudspeakers.
It was all very low key, as in, "Guess the number of old sneakers in
the large plastic cube and win a year's supply of Nikes.''
The emphasis was on healthy things, on outdoor activities,
Even so, there is security galore, from foot patrols to a state bomb
squad truck. Eugene closed down two police substations for the
duration and assigned the officers to Hayward Field and borrowed
officers from other jurisdictions, mindful, no doubt, that such a
high-profile gathering could make a tempting target.
And while the campus has been calm, mostly, for years, Eugene retains
an activist anarchist community and grayer heads may have recalled
the Vietnam War years when many on campus proved to be proficient
bombers and arsonists.
And some here still know how.
An environmental extremist group based here was recently broken up
with many of it's members packed off to long prison terms for arson
and other crimes.'