Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Occupy Watch: Camp closes; curfew passes; activism continues

Published in the Portland Phoenix

Let's just say it: The first phase of OccupyMaine ended with a fizzle, not a bang. The showing at Friday's 10 pm deadline for Occupiers to be out of Lincoln Park was poor. There were three Occupiers and two journalists, standing near the park's fountain. No police, no city workers — they'd come by earlier in the day and cleaned up what was left in the park, with help from several Occupiers.

Two of the three at the fountain that night had just come from a satirical "Billionaires for Romney" event outside Portland Yacht Services, where GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney was speaking, hoping to garner support in the state's Republican caucuses. (He won, according to state GOP officials, though there is apparently some question about whether more votes still need to come in and whether they should be counted when determining how to allocate Maine's delegates.)
After all the promises and threats, including some people publicly pledging to get arrested rather than leave the park voluntarily, the protesters ultimately seemed mollified by the city's go-slow approach to eviction.
So it was a token crew — two women and a man, all between their 20s and their late 30s — who returned to the park to observe the deadline for people to leave or be held in violation of the city's ordinance against loitering in public parks at night.
They sat on the fountain, held signs, chanted, stood around, and even watched police cars drive in and out of the city garage — nothing seemed to attract attention from the authorities. One cruiser did seem to slow down for its driver to take a closer look; with a total of five people in the park, the officer likely assumed the gathering would peter out on its own if left alone.
Sure enough, after some jokes suggesting that the trio were committing "attempted loitering," and even "conspiracy to attempt loitering," the bloom was off the rose and the protesters departed by about 10:15 pm.
Nevertheless, the movement continues, operating from its base at the Meg Perry Center. A "reoccupation" rally at Monument Square and a "rededication" of Lincoln Park happened over the weekend, and served to bring together many of the core group as well as additional supporters, to keep the activism alive.
There was also a brief memorial for John Mutero, known in camp as "Big John," who was found dead in a doorway on Allen Avenue last week, under unclear circumstances; Mutero had run afoul of authorities and received a police ban from being in Lincoln Park. Police said foul play and cold weather were not factors; the state medical examiner is investigating.
The group expects to continue occasional use of the State of Maine Room at Portland City Hall, where a Tuesday press conference called attention to the loss of home-heating subsidies for poor Mainers, while wealthy people here and around the country bask in the warmth of government handouts. Other events along that line are in the works — keep tabs on what's happening at, and attend the General Assembly meetings at 5 pm on Wednesday and Friday, at the Meg Perry Center, 644 Congress Street, Portland.