Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Looking ahead to 2012

Published in the Portland Phoenix; part of a longer piece co-written with Deirdre Fulton - what's below is my part

Occupy Maine (and everywhere else)
While its members (and the rest of the 99 percent) wait to see about how OccupyMaine fares in court — and in possible multiple rounds of appeals and requests for reconsideration — they're not resting on their pallets and sleeping mats. After the lawsuit was filed, OccupyMaine's outward-looking activist efforts stepped up noticeably, with several rallies and events, including screening an inspirational film about the Arab Spring, supporting clean air and peace on Earth, attending a ceremony remembering homeless people who have died, and continuing the weekly series of community discussions and potluck meals.
In Augusta and elsewhere around the state, Occupiers no longer in encampments are planning how to approach lawmakers when the Legislature comes back into session. And nationally, the movement is retooling as well, with possible futures ranging from spreading the movement across the nation (in the style of Spain's indignados), continued General Assemblies (like in Boston), official recognition (such as Portland Mayor Mike Brennan's offer to create a mayoral task force reviewing issues Occupy has brought to the fore), and continued spotlighting of human-services needs (as seen in the OccupyMaine meetings with Portland officials that resulted in housing for several homeless protesters). Around the country there have been Occupy actions protesting foreclosures; look for something along that line to happen locally too. There's even a suggestion (from former Wall Street regulator Eliot Spitzer) that the slogan change to We Own Wall Street, and that efforts shift to shareholder activism by the millions of Americans who own mutual funds, retirement accounts, and other investments — with the goal of demanding that corporate officials respond to not just the needs of our democracy, but also of their real owners, the American people.
We'll also see how the Occupy message and its larger philosophies affect the 2012 presidential race. President Obama has already issued some 99-percenter rhetoric, and GOP candidates are struggling to respond to their financial backers and their voters, who have never seemed to overlap less. Closer to home, the Occupy movement appears ineffective in penetrating Governor LePage's single-minded neoconservative agenda, but it remains to be seen whether state Republicans in a legislative election year will stick with him or shift left with their constituents.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Portland City Council to #OccupyMaine: No dialogue here

Published at

It appears time to consider the possibility that the pro-business, anti-public ethos that plagues American politics has also started to infect Portland's city council.
To wit: Most Portland city councilors love to make deals with corporations, but have no interest in finding a way for people to protest overnight in city parks, despite repeated attempts on the part of OccupyMaine members, the city manager, the city attorney, and even a fellow councilor to persuade them to try it.
Perhaps they were swayed by statistics from the police department showing increased activity right outside the police station's back door, at the Lincoln Park encampment. Perhaps they were unpersuaded by an Occupy supporter's mention that comparing police calls at Lincoln Park today to a year ago is like comparing police activity at a stadium on game day as opposed to a midweek afternoon, or from another's that the same activity has happened in Lincoln Park for years but nobody called the cops until Occupy started.
In any case, despite repeated and increasingly clear statements that the petition from OccupyMaine was a starting point for discussion and could be amended to the council's pleasure - the same way all proposals from businesses are - seven councilors and the newly elected mayor, Mike Brennan, voted to reject the application as written, with no dicussion of modifications that would have a better chance of being acceptable in the future.
Here are several interesting statements from the councilors, followed by particularly sharp points from the public comments section, at which 53 people spoke, with just five opposing the Occupation.
IMPORTANT: So far, city officials - including Brennan and Acting Police Chief Mike Sauschuck - have been very clear in their assurances to the Occupy group and to the media that no forcible eviction is planned, and that the group has time to react to the city's decision without fear of violence, as has happened in other cities.

The councilors
When councilors spoke, they typically followed a basic pattern, stating their First Amendment support and respect, and then shutting down the most innovative, disruptive form of free speech, expression, and assembly the country has yet seen in its history.
Ed Suslovic appeared stuck for quite a while on technicalities of paperwork, and several times said he wanted city staff's guidance on whether what OccupyMaine had submitted would be considered legally complete.
His major issue, though, was about limiting the numbers in the park, a key request from city staff on public-safety grounds. Suslovic was worried about who would control or enforce that limit. He did not propose a solution, but simply observed that it was a problem for him, calling it "giving one group exclusive license over public property."
He also claimed "we gave ample feedback" at the Public Safety Committee meeting, which he chaired - and which unanimously rejected an earlier version of OccupyMaine's petition, without proposing any specific amendments that might have passed muster.
He specifically said he doesn't want to open parks to the public 24/7.

Cheryl Leeman initially claimed that the council was to be voting on the petition as is, and said "there's no negotiating those terms," triggering yet another round of assurances that it, like any other request that comes before the council, could be entirely rewritten by the council if they chose.
She outright admitted she didn't get the message: "I disagree that a permanent encampment is required to support the mission of OccupyMaine."
She objected to the "contradictory" nature of limiting the size of the protest - though the city wanted that, not the occupiers - and called it "exclusionary."
She also admitted that never in her many years on the council has she dealt with anything like this.
And said "from a technical standpoint, it's all wrong" and specified that while she is interested in talking about the issues OccupyMaine is raising, she is not interested in talking about the encampment.

John Anton, in heartfelt comments, seemed earnestly to be seeking dialogue with the Occupiers, telling his fellow councilors that "there is a third path" they could take: "there is yes, no, or continue to talk."
He also summarized the disconnect well: "We have two very earnest cultures that are expressing themselves in very different ways" - the council and Occupy.
Inviting a new application with more specifics, he said it was his belief that the "First Amendment trumps municipal ordinances, and the boundaries of that are unclear."
Urging them to continue, he told Occupy: "I feel like we do our best work as a council when we're out of our comfort zone. That's what you're doing."
But then, having said a lot of nice things about dialogue, he didn't take the "third path" he had suggested. He voted no.

David Marshall took up the mantle he declined at the public safety committee meeting, and became a voice for continued conversation with Occupy. "I feel we should really continue dialogue," he said. "It would be a great gesture on the part of the city."
"We're in this position because of decisions the city has made" and requests the city has made that Occupy has honored. "I don't see that the Occupiers are doing anything illegal."
He said he had expected that the council would go through the petition closely and work on it, making changes and suggestions along the way. But instead, "We have a council that's not willing to negotiate" - even though the city makes exceptions to rules all the time.
He said the First Amendment is "more than just freedom of speech . . . it says that you cannot abridge the freedom of assembly" - and therefore, he supported the Occupiers' right to assemble 24/7 in Lincoln Park.

Jill Duson said she supports 24/7 protests "anywhere in the city" but said freedom of speech is not "freedom to convert a public park into a residential community."
"I think it's better for us to get to court as soon as possible," she said, adding: "We ought to just deny it and allow a court to decide whether freedom of speech includes occupation of a public park."

Nick Mavodones, like Leeman, admitted he didn't grok the concept of the Occupy movement: "I don't think it has to be a 24-hour protest."
He also said some other confusing things: "taking over and living in the park right across the street is problematic" - thereby admitting that Occupy's existence is a message, and suggesting he didn't want to see it.
Then he got really mixed up. "I have no issue with people protesting in that park whenever they feel it's appropriate," he said, going on to contradict himself by telling the Occupiers that even though they clearly did think it "appropriate" to protest overnight, he had an issue with that.

John Coyne, among the most militantly Occupy-opposed councilors from the early days of the protest, suggested that the sum total of "what goes on down there" is crime, and then went so far as to suggest that kicking them out of Lincoln Park would "reduce crime by 30 percent." He appeared to draw that figure from statements by Sauschuck that 30 percent of the arrests in the Old Port area between October 1 and December 5 were in Lincoln Park. He appeared not to assume that several of those arrests, including of a man wanted on a warrant from New York, would have happened elsewhere in the city.
He also drew smirks when he called the Occupy movement a "special-interest group."

Kevin Donoghue also seemed to be mixed up about the inclusive nature of the movement, and the reason Occupy proposed limiting protesters' numbers. "We are talking about exclusive use of space," he said, urging the Occupiers to seek redress in court "not as a confrontational venue but as a clarifying venue." In closing, he dismissed much of the evening's work by saying, "I do appreciate the exercise."

Mike Brennan acknowledged that both OccupyMaine and the city recognize the current situation isn't working, and said what's been submitted doesn't address the problems yet. He said he wants to work with Occupy on this (and followed that up after the meeting with a request to meet with Occupy attorney John Branson on Thursday afternoon).
"I do believe that the issues here are deep enough, are important enough" to warrant additional work by the city, he said, "to see if in fact there is a permit that can cross the Ts" that other councilors were concerned about.
In the event of no approval, he expressly promised no excessive force in removing the protesters: "We are not interested in being Oakland. We are not interested in being New York."
And even when it was clear that the council would vote no (with Brennan among them) that night, he said, "there's still an opportunity tomorrow to engage in dialogue."

The public
OccupyMaine attorney John Branson observed that the protest is against "the corporate takeover of our public spaces and our democratic government," and said the nature of the protest is "a form of speech, assembly, and demonstration that requires by definition the ability to maintain a continued presence in public space."
Former US Senate candidate Bill Slavick reminded the council that during the Great Depression, the government put millions to work in a matter of weeks - and observed that no such action is happening now. "Enough of greed rampant."
Rachel Lyn Rumson read OccupyMaine's statement for redress of grievances, as approved by the December 4 GA: "OccupyMaine seeks initial redress of grievances and hereby requests that the City of Portland take the following actions:
1. Withdraw all City funds from TD Bank and transfer those funds to a locally owned bank or credit union.
2. Develop methods for increased direct democracy and public engagement, including, as a starting point, making the State of Maine Room available for a weekly City of Portland General Assembly that would develop proposals and recommendations for consideration and action by the City Council.
3. Increase support for homeless people in Portland including those who have come to live at Lincoln Park. Begin by working with homeless people in Lincoln Park to get them into housing and address other needs that they have.
4. Create a 24-hour free speech and assembly space in Monument Square where people can assemble at any hour to engage in non-commercial First Amendment activity."

Local activist and business owner Jonah Fertig said "our democracy is getting bought out by corporations," and specifically said "I want to hear the city council talk about the corporations and the bankers."
Corporate lobbyist Chris O'Neil of the Portland Regional Chamber revealed much of the hypocrisy the Occupiers are decrying, both by saying he wasn't going to talk about constitutional questions and then spending most of his time doing exactly that, and by admitting he represents "the chamber who is often here decrying regulations" but said the ones preventing free speech in public spaces "are there for a reason"
Zachary Heiden, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, said negotiations were possible, and were indeed the right way forward. "There is a way to address these concerns" of safety and health, he said, urging the councilors to "try to find a way to say yes to this group rather than trying to find a way to say no."
Francis Martin, known in camp as "Seamus," said "I have lived in Portland in a tent for years . . . I live in a tent hidden in the woods" but only now that he is living in a tent in Lincoln Park does he feel like he belongs.
Robert Witham Jr. said the city right now provides no place to protest 24/7, but for people who take things very seriously, that's a limit - the law actually prevents people from taking things so seriously that they're willing to protest 24/7.
Martin Steingesser said the city supports corporations all the time, including the Pierce Atwood tax break. He also said that if the encampment must be removed, city councilors should be on site to observe and supervise
John Newcomb of the Maine AFL-CIO and the Southern Maine Labor Council suggested the city spend some money on free speech, pointedly observing, "look at the money some of you have spent just on this election, Mayor Brennan." (Brennan spent $41,075, according to campaign-finance filings.)
Brian Leonard said chief city building inspector Tammy Munson was thorough, but suggested she was overzealous and drew a parallel to the tough conditions earlier patriots endured: "I'm terribly sorry she wasn't there in General Washington's encampment at Valley Forge."
Alan Porter said peace in Lincoln Park is possible. "For five weeks we did enjoy peace . . . "It wasn't until the closing of Milestone that it all fell apart." That happened on November 1, when federal funding problems forced the 41-bed emergency shelter to shut down, which lasted about 10 days. Then, Porter added, "once-traditional camping areas for our city's homeless were broken up."
In a final observation that Lincoln Park has always been home to the homeless, he said, "No matter your decision, there will be people who stay in the park after you tell them to go."

Other speakers, whose names I didn't hear, and who I was unable to track down in the crowd, said several interesting things.
One man decried the encampment as a "magnet" for problems that previously occurred in less visible places in the city, and seemed to suggest those issues should go back into hiding.
Another noted that the city spends massive resources supporting corporations with TIFs and tax incentives, and lamented that it is apparently unwilling to spend even a little bit to support free speech.
Another supporter observed the alternatives to working with the Occupiers, describing the police violence in other cities that led to standoffs, even larger protests, and lawsuits. Suggesting the city could choose, she asked if they wanted a forcible eviction with cartoonishly disproportionate municipal violence, or "do you want to just call us up and say that's not allowed under the permit."
A woman observed that no permit was necessary for the "early patriots" who gathered and sometimes camped, nor for the lunch-counter sit-ins of the Civil Rights Movement.
A senior at UNE who is studying to be a teacher spent his three minutes of talk time lecturing Occupy on how to be effective, suggesting the group work "through the system that we have," apparently without irony, and definitely without observing that they seek to change that system, not perpetuate it by participating in it.
One person said the Occupiers were using toilets belonging to local businesses, but the claim rang hollow with no business owner (nor even any business-group lobbyist) saying there was a problem.
One warning may ring truest of all, from a Marine veteran quoting John F. Kennedy: "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Holiday Treasure Hunt

Published in the Portland Phoenix

Is it trash or treasure? The editorial team here at the Portland Phoenix compiled this year's incarnation of our annual local gift guide by searching for diamonds in the rough. Thrift stores, secondhand shops, even one of those massive New England antique barns: Surely, there's great stuff in there, we thought. Turns out we were right. It took some doing, but we did manage to take advantage of the recyclables-as-commodities trend and score some good finds, without breaking the bank. We competed to see how many gifts each of us could buy with a total of $20. (Pro tip: Going to these places with a couple of friends makes things a lot less dystopian than standing alone, staring around a warehouse-sized building filled with gewgaws and thingamajigs cast off from others' lives.) We proved it's possible to get really good gifts at completely low prices. Here are our three perspectives on the search, what we found, and where.

(What follows is just my part of a piece co-written with Deirdre Fulton and Nicholas Schroeder.)

JEFF Our first stop was right up on Congress Street, where, at 604 Thrift, I made my way among the racks and shelves, waiting for something to grab my attention. (I almost never browse when shopping; my style is more surgical-strike, with a specific item, and often price, in mind before leaving home.) I poked at the books, the used CDs, and some of the assorted trinketry; there was some interesting stuff, but nothing that grabbed me. On my second trip through the downstairs, I paused and looked up in semi-exasperation. There, right on the wall in front of me, I scored, spying a mounted lithograph of colonial Alexandria, Virginia (a DC suburb), where I have family. They're the type who love history and like a wide variety of art on the walls; a light-touch image of the past will go smartly in a quiet corner. For just $3.14, I was well on my way.

At Goodwill, I found a few things that were funny to make jokes out of (or story ideas: see the "Gifts for the 99 Percent" piece in the Gift Guide supplement!) or marvel at the provenance of. I'm no shopper; perhaps my subconscious was telling me that I needed a good, stiff drink if I was to keep this up. So I stuck to glassware — of which there is a frighteningly broad selection, most (but not all) of which comes in pairs or matching sets. With some focus, and not a few scary encounters with patterns no glazier should ever have imagined, I made good again, finding a pair of very nice tall glasses that are perfect for cold cocktails on hot summer days. They're the right heft, shape, volume, color — and price. I'll give them to one of my very favorite hot-summer-day-drinking pals, perhaps with some gin, tonic, and a lime. Maybe I won't even drink it before wrapping it! At $2.08 (99 cents plus tax per glass), I was barely a quarter of the way through my sawbuck, and had two decent gifts to show.
Sure enough, the universe told me I should quit then — I struck out at the ReStore entirely, though Nick, Deirdre, and I did enjoy checking out the extremely varied collection of furniture and kitchen appliances.
The following week's excursion proved fruitful for me again. After what seemed endless hours of meandering in massive rooms with overwhelming piles of schlock (and, it must be said, a goodly amount of decent stuff) at Arundel Antiques, I spotted a small carved wooden loon (signed by the carver, the price tag helpfully informed). It's a nice little reminder of our family's annual time on a loon-haunted New Hampshire lake, and I'm hoping it'll go well on the windowsill of the room of the youngest attendee. It was $5.25, more than the cost of the print and the cocktail glasses combined, but I'm hoping it'll go over well.
I also found some stocking stuffers: Arundel Antiques has at least two (and maybe more; the place is massive) rotating displays of magnets, which are $2 each, or three for $5 (I think there are bigger discounts for even larger quantities). I was able to locate three — one of penguins, another of Portland Head Light, and a third of loons — that will do nicely as tiny tidbits to spice up Christmas morning.
All that and I still had $4.28 left over. Gotta find another place to hunt!

Gubernatorial Wishlist: Good tidings from LePage

Published in the Portland Phoenix

In place of our usual monthly Gubernatorial Scorecard, we're looking at what Governor Paul LePage has been up to through the lens of the holiday season. Augusta gets back to business in mid-January, making the current state of relations between the gov and various groups even more important than usual. Here's what we imagine they're giving each other, and how much it's really worth.

JOB CREATORS | The governor has talked to vast numbers of business leaders around the state, has sought to put business lobbyists' language directly into law and state policy, and has even authorized the assumption of untold millions in liability for a landfill cleanup in the hopes of keeping Maine's mills working even just a little bit longer. What more could he give them? Depends what they give him.
GIFT FOR HIM • 1000 sheets of custom stationery featuring pre-written legislative language, plus a pre-printed signature at the bottom | $250 (companies will cover the lobbyists' drafting fees)
GIFT FROM HIM • More subsidies, tax cuts, and liability reductions | $10 million (that's a conservative estimate)
JOB SEEKERS | Faced with a protest outside his door, LePage this weekend glad-handed with a selected trio from a group who were objecting to his derogatory remarks about people who can't find work in the worst economy in a century. His office put out a nice press release with friendly photo. Then he called the meeting "bullshit" to a reporter.
GIFT FOR HIM • A chess clock, to monitor how much time he spends talking to the rich versus the poor | $20 (if everybody pitches in pennies found on the street)
GIFT FROM HIM • A year of his time really engaging in the issues that affect disadvantaged and out-of-work Mainers | $70,000 (his annual salary)
STATE EMPLOYEES | Simultaneously portraying the rank-and-file of public servants as impossibly overworked and unconscionably lazy, LePage continues to fight to reduce staff numbers and privatize retiree benefits. Some state offices have seen so many departures that even the front-desk staff struggle to know who's in charge.
GIFT FOR HIM • A list of all the stuff he'll have to do for himself if everybody gets either laid off or fired, or becomes too demoralized to stay | free (it's on the state's website)
GIFT FROM HIM • A holiday email message (some acknowledgment that they're working hard might be nice) | free (but he'll have to learn to use email)
THE MEDIA | Before his rude dismissal of concerns about economic justice, LePage hadn't blundered as often lately as he used to. We knew he was missing the limelight; it's clear what pass for Maine's mainstream-media pundits missed him too.
GIFT FOR HIM • Wi-fi-enabled webcam (to webcast real-time audio and video of his every moment) | $110 (the dailies and the TV stations can pool their available cash)
GIFT FROM HIM • A weekly public question-and-answer session (though that "bullshit" line is pretty good) | free (the best part of transparency is its simplicity!)
THE OPPOSITION | LePage continues to act as if he has no opposition in the State House; he's clearly oblivious to how much of the pushback comes from members of his own party. But the Dems are finding their voices too, albeit slowly. It definitely seems that the Occupy movement has given the DINOs some things to talk about.
GIFT FOR HIM • A magnifying glass (they can say it'll help him find a clue; also useful for finding his regular-person supporters) | $10
GIFT FROM HIM • A ruler (he can say they can measure their progress in his state; also useful for determining how low they bow to him) | $5
This month's total | Gifts for LePage $390 | Gifts from LePage $10,070,005

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Will the Portland City Council work with #OccupyMaine, or refuse all dialogue?

Published at

There is one question that must be answered at tomorrow night's Portland City Council meeting: Will the councilors treat the Occupiers the same way the councilors treat for-profit corporations?
We'd hope so, of course - we'd hope that the council would behave equably toward all petitioners, from all quarters. We'll have to see whether Portland's councilors are up to that challenge, which is made sharper by the anti-corporate nature of the Occupy movement's message. Attend the meeting at City Hall at 7 pm - public comments are welcome - and see for yourself what happens.
It is normal practice for companies seeking permission from the council to do whatever they want - a new building, rezoning, stage an event in a public space - to be met with a collaborative spirit from councilors and council committees. Applications are treated as suggestions, with councilors often suggesting revisions and engaging in back-and-forth about what the goals are for the request, and finding ways to assuage any councilors' concerns while still allowing the the project to go forward.
Most of the time, when dealing with developers and other businesses, the Portland council - like most I've seen in action around the state - takes a "how can we make this happen" approach, often negotiating around the details but rarely rejecting an idea out of hand.
Enter OccupyMaine. Its reception before the council's Public Safety Committee was frosty, at best (see my post from last week), and certainly didn't signal that those three councilors were willing to really work with the Occupiers.
Even Dave Marshall, who might have led the discussion into collaborative territory, declined to truly engage with the Occupiers, instead imagining himself voting the Occupy petition "up or down" - despite the fact that almost nothing that comes before the council gets a simple yes/no vote with no discussion or negotiation. Sure enough, his less tolerant committee cohorts, Ed Suslovic and John Coyne, jumped on that bandwagon and charged to a unanimous recommendation that the council reject the petition outright.
Disappointed by undaunted, the Occupy group took what feedback the committee members gave into consideration and revised their petition to specifically address several areas of public-safety concern that came up repeatedly during the meeting.
Despite the lack of willingness for dialogue on the committee's part, the Occupiers assumed that at least some councilors are operating in good faith, and moved to continue the conversation.
In the revised petition, the Occupiers made this move extremely clear: "OccupyMaine is willing to consider additional substantive changes as necessary to address any other concerns that may be voiced by the City Council or City Officials."
Swallowing their pride, the Occupiers are accepting that they have been spurned once, and are still extending their hands to the city, hoping to engage in a dance.
It is important to take a moment to remember that this is a process intended from its outset to begin solving the public-safety problems that have arisen at and alongside the Occupation. If the City Council does not engage in a discussion, it will be clear that the councilors don't actually care about the public-safety problems, but simply want the Occupiers gone.
Removing them might not be so simple. Along with a federal judge's expected ruling tomorrow in Bangor, and with judges around the country taking up Occupy-related cases, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine has now entered the fray, saying it supports the Occupy group's right to stay in the park around the clock in protest, and expressly talking about potential court action.
But the ACLU of Maine also touches a point that OccupyMaine attorney John Branson hit in the committee meeting: the city should not allow this protest to continue because it is protected by the First Amendment, or because a court ruling requires the city to grin and bear it.
Rather, the city should welcome with open arms this new groundswell of public engagement in civic processes, and allow it to continue because it is a good idea. Just the way the city handles requests from private businesses.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Invited to dance by city staff, #OccupyMaine is spurned by councilors

Published at

Portland's Public Safety Committee, a subcommittee of the City Council, has refused to enter into ongoing negotiations with OccupyMaine over conditions in Lincoln Park, with two of the committee's three members suggesting there are no provisions under which they would support First Amendment protests to last overnight in public spaces.
With that decision made, it is more likely that the full City Council will do the same in a meeting slated for Wednesday, December 7, at 7 pm at City Hall. Last night, councilors on the committee expressed serious concerns about public safety and health relating to the Occupation.
This latest development in the two-month saga of OccupyMaine is an ironic twist, because it was a city staff idea spawned in a meeting with Occupiers, and was specifically designed to address the public-safety concerns arising for both parties.
Following a November 17 inspection of the encampment by city fire, building, and public-services staff, the Occupiers were summoned to a meeting at City Hall, where the groups decided that it was necessary to create a legal framework for the camp, to allow the city and the Occupiers to address the various issues that have arisen, including several arrests and disturbances, as well as violations of the city's fire code.
With Occupy members split on whether they should even engage with the city by asking for a permit or petitioning to stay, the faction urging that the city's offer should be taken "in good faith" won out. OccupyMaine petitioned the City Council to create a permanent 'round-the-clock free-speech zone in just over half of Lincoln Park, and asked permission to be the first group to occupy it.
The "good faith" faction also expressed hope that the council would engage in real discussions and dialogue to find a way to allow the Occupation to continue, subject to - as Occupiers expected - significant changes in the encampment to address fire-protection, health, and food-service issues.
Those changes, according to OccupyMaine's petition, included meeting city requirements for temporary-building permits for major structures in the park, completely rearranging the tents' locations to provide as much as 10 feet between sets of tent stakes, and replacing all tarps and other weatherization materials with fire-retardant materials.
It was very clear going into last night's Public Safety Committee meeting that the Occupy group was expecting to receive more direction from the committee on exactly what would be required if they were to be allowed to stay. And it was also very clear to the committee members that if the existing proposals from OccupyMaine did not fully address their concerns, that they could make additions and modifications to suit their comfort levels.
But that's not at all what happened.
Instead, after five hours of discussion - with input from city staff and 35 members of the public - councilors Ed Suslovic and John Coyne refused to brook even the slightest idea that the Occupation should be allowed to stay under any circumstances, and the committee's third member, councilor Dave Marshall, expressed significant reluctance to let it remain.
Suslovic called the situation "a public-safety disaster, or at the very least a near disaster about to turn into a disaster," and said "we cannot allow this to continue." He asked the protesters to "reset the clock, vacate the park" - but that's extremely unlikely, given that OccupyMaine attorney John Branson says the group's legal position is stronger while the Occupation continues.
"Free speech is covered, yes, but this is an Occupation," Coyne said during committee discussion on the matter. "We've got staff tied up on a daily basis . . . it's gotten too much."
Only councilor Dave Marshall offered any light of hope, and that was but a dim glimmer, given his comment that "the number of tents should be really limited if not all removed." The lack of shelter would make it nearly impossible for the Occupation to continue through the winter. Logistics aside, Marshall had another concern: "The question for me is whether sleeping is still free speech."
The full council will take up the issue next week, but if they follow the lead of the Public Safety Committee, as is likely, the legal wrangling will only continue.
A federal judge in Bangor is slated to rule Monday on efforts by the Capitol Police to evict an Occupation on the State House grounds in Augusta; courts around the country are taking up issues related to Occupations. Branson says the Occupy group would consider court action as one of its options, depending on what happens at the council meeting.
If Portland denies permission for the Occupation to stay, some protesters have said they will leave voluntarily. But others have said publicly that they will stay and practice nonviolent civil disobedience.
The degree of violence Portland police might use to forcibly evict them remains to be seen, but the three councilors on the Public Safety Committee seemed uninterested in seeing scenes like those that have happened at evictions around the country, including police in riot gear and wielding chemical weapons against unarmed peaceful protesters in New York and Oakland, California.
"The way I'm seeing it handled in other parts of the country is pretty disturbing," said councilor Marshall Monday night.
"I hope that if this doesn't pass the Occupation ends peacefully," said councilor Coyne, decrying the violent tactics used elsewhere.
Suslovic, too, praised the professionalism of the police department so far.