After a rain-drenched initial weekend, the folks at OccupyMaine's area in Monument Square have settled in for the long haul, negotiating with Portland officials from a position of strength because of a provision in city ordinances that virtually guarantees them a right to stay — so long as they meld art into their other activities.
Portland police did issue a summons to one of the group's organizers, Demi Colby, for putting up a structure in Monument Square without the required city permit; the Occupy group took down two E-Z Up "instant shelters" and some tables to comply, and worked with both police and city parks staff to secure a place in Monument Square as well as sleeping quarters — with tents allowed — in nearby Lincoln Park, across from the county and federal courthouses. Demonstrators are now occupying both sites.
In their back pocket, should their ability to stay come into legal question, the OccupyMaine crew have a city law that says artists are allowed to work in public spaces, and to have a certain amount of space per artist. If need be, Colby and others say, they'll mark out space for each person and have everyone involved in the occupation create art while there.
The group is an orderly bunch, with all-hands meetings at least daily run by simple, clearly explained rules of order, and all attending welcome to speak. Their plan is to stay indefinitely, and they welcome all supporters, and are seeking donations of food and supplies, as well as cash to cover costs like printing flyers to explain what they're doing.
More events like Monday's march to the University of Southern Maine campus are planned, and there will be live music in the square from time to time, including during the First Friday Art Walk.
The demonstrators vary their approach, sometimes chanting and drumming, and other times quietly holding signs. Their demands, issued in a statement over the weekend, include national-level changes such as ending corporate personhood (the legal principle that gives companies "free speech" rights in the form of spending unlimited money on campaign advertising), eliminating tax loopholes; increased financial-market regulation and prosecution of "financial criminals." Demands on local issues are to improve affordability of heating oil, bring the Maine National Guard home, improve public transportation, and fix corporate-personhood provisions of state laws.
The group is a wildly diverse one, including Colby, who has been unemployed for more than a year, participated in the Wall Street occupation and spoke last weekend about the movement at the Harvest Ball at Harry Brown's farm in Starks.
Betsy Kaufer, a stay-at-home mom from Scarborough, also participated, saying her youth in Mississippi showed her the dangers of cronyist influences in government.
Another demonstrator held a sign saying "I'm a single mom/student loan debt=2x my salary/I am the 99%."
On Tuesday, as the Portland Phoenix went to press, rain resumed, but did not deter the efforts, which continued with several people at both locations holding signs and getting honks of support from passing traffic.