Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Occupy Watch: Occupation grows, expands around Maine

Published in the Portland Phoenix

With formal occupations slated to begin Augusta and Bangor this week, and impromptu ones springing up all over the state (including one so far during daylight hours only in South Portland's Legion Square), the two-week-old OccupyMaine movement really picked up steam over the weekend.
The central branch, in Monument Square, itself built huge momentum, with nearly 1300 people participating in a variety of events over three days, such as a teach-in by USM professors and marches to centers of power like City Hall and the cruise ship terminal, where a luxury cruise liner was in port, providing a stark backdrop of wealth and privilege. A decent number of female protestors went topless in the summerlike heat, too.
While negotiations with the city continue about having events in Monument Square and much remains to be seen about an extended camping presence in Lincoln Park, the events to date have been peaceful and largely without conflict (standard downtown-Portland crazy-person encounters notwithstanding).
That stands in marked contrast to the situations in New York City and even Boston, where police have moved in on peaceful protestors with pepper spray, batons, and handcuffs. Late Monday night, Boston police officers attacked a crowd on the Rose Kennedy Greenway, adjacent to the initial location in Dewey Square. The movement had expanded its area to accommodate increased numbers. There, the cops pepper-sprayed and arrested more than 100 demonstrators, including members of the local Veterans For Peace chapter.
In Portland the conflict has been of a legal sort, with letters flying back and forth between city attorney Gary Wood and OccupyMaine's lawyer, John Branson, discussing the exact nature of the city's restrictions on protests, which are protected by the First Amendment. Mass gatherings are typically required to get permits from the city for groups larger than 25 (and City Council approval is needed for events attracting more than 2000 people to public spaces). But the city code also appears to exempt from permit requirements all First Amendment-related activities.
The protestors, while demanding respect for their free-speech and other constitutional rights, are also working to respect the community surrounding Monument Square. In addition to creating a sanitation committee to minimize litter and coordinate other aspects of waste removal, over the weekend those attending a General Assembly meeting (all are welcome at the meetings; 6 pm daily) approved limits on drumming, with only hand drumming to be undertaken unless there is a march, and all drums stopping at 10 pm on weekends and 8 pm on weeknights.
From what I have seen and heard in Maine and read about from other places, this movement differs in several important ways from today's unrepresentative democracy. It's creating a functioning society based on common tenets of communication, representation, and collaboration. The movement has already proved that we as a society can, through collective action and donation, keep thousands of protestors around the country fed, clothed, sheltered, and accompanied by additional supporters. It has already proved that the people can come together in our public squares and actually meet face-to-face to civilly and productively discuss the issues of the day and what we're going to do in response. And its longevity and broad support may yet prove able to withstand pressure from the established powers in government offices and corporate boardrooms.
Several events are already planned to further the cause, including a free day-long concert featuring Sparks the Rescue, Stream Reggae, Sandbag, and Huak. Organizers had wanted to have it on October 15 in Monument Square, but city spokeswoman Nicole Clegg says the square has already been reserved for use by charity walks (benefiting the Iris Foundation and Making Strides Against Breast Cancer) both that day and the following day. (The resolution of that was not yet clear by the Phoenix's Tuesday deadline; check for updates as they are available.)
There's also a move afoot to organize a Halloween march on October 29, at which participants are encouraged to dress as "corporate zombies" — truly undead, and feeding on the brains of the living.
Also, SPACE Gallery has put out a call for entries in an "OccupySPACE" installation in the front window at 538 Congress Street, on the theme of "public thoughts about our financial crisis and threats to true democratic process." Anyone can enter — submit either a letter-sized piece of paper in person or by mail, or email a printable PDF of a page that size The show will go up on October 17, and at the future (unannounced) date when it comes down, the materials will be collected in a binder for archiving.
Follow @OccupyMaine and #OccupyMaine on Twitter, OccupyMaine on Facebook, and see coverage of OccupyMaine, OccupyBoston, and occupations up and down the East Coast at