Colby knows it's late to get legislation into the session beginning January 4, but occupiers are considering "going and not leaving" — some kind of State House occupation. Last winter's Wisconsin state-capitol protests blazed this political trail. There's another precedent: the Capitol already is occupied by 330-plus lobbyists, three-quarters representing corporations.

Many members would like to solve environmental problems. They've visited the State Planning Office, just across the park, to discuss possible pollution from a proposed expansion of state-owned Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town, a dumping ground for colossal quantities of in- and out-of-state toxic waste.

The Augusta activists have also engaged in protest marches around town and chanted anti-corporate slogans at a Bank of America branch and Wal-Mart. But now it's important to put "new voices into that building," said Will Neals, 35, of Appleton, another veteran organizer, glancing at the State House.

All this activism has led to the amping up of nonviolent civil disobedience from camping without a permit to the Blaine House arrests. Confronting power so directly is the ultimate political statement short of — and opposite to — warfare.


Early anarchism

"Right now, we're just protesters," Ed Bonenfant, a 27-year-old Augusta man with long brown hair, said in October after the occupiers first set up camp. "We don't know what we want yet. We're trying to figure it out."

But they were "trying to provide an example of what life should be," he said. Devoted to the consensus-based democracy of their general assemblies, they seemed little interested in representative government. Their approach to social change could have been expressed by the anarchist slogan "Occupy everything, demand nothing."

This somewhat self-absorbed attitude mystifies the news media and drives political organizers nuts. Some activists saw not so much an idyllic alternative society but clubhouse fun, with neat talks all night around the fire.

When political action did take place, there was at first no attempt to engage the public. The Phoenix got to see the action at Beliveau's house because this reporter happened to arrive at Capitol Park just as Jim Freeman's bus was loading up.

It was a campers' utopia, though, when the weather was warm. The Capitol dome's golden statute of Minerva, goddess of wisdom, looked down benignly on the tents and campfire as it glowed in the last sunlight. Apples, bread, vegetables, and firewood poured into the camp from a cornucopia of supporters' generosity. The Penobscot Nation consecrated a large white canvas tepee that became the camp's centerpiece.

But utopia is hard to maintain, especially if the economics are artificial. The communes of the 1970s generally didn't survive, though the freedoms they modeled had effects on society.

Some at Occupy Augusta have had trouble with the lengthy, leaderless attempts at consensus, another anarchist bequest. Anarchism, too, invites disorder, as Portland's encampment has discovered, with its many street-people arrests for assault.

Now in Augusta, the political has taken precedence over the personal — encouraged by the political veterans there. For one thing, political action can get results. As the recent civil disobedience demonstrates, it also commands attention.


Challenges ahead

Even if the encampment survives attempts to dismantle it — a court order has prevented the police from acting for at least a week — it will be hard to demonstrate utopia in a Maine January. People staying overnight have dwindled to 15, though many more show up during the day.

< prev  1  |  2  |  3  |   next >
  Topics: News Features , Politics, Maine, Augusta,  More more >
| More


Most Popular
ARTICLES BY LANCE TAPLEY
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   LOCKING UP THE MENTALLY ILL  |  April 03, 2014
    The merger of the prison and mental-health systems continues
  •   WHERE ARE THE LEADERS ON CLIMATE CHANGE?  |  March 20, 2014
    The conference was held in March despite the risk of a snowstorm because its organizers wanted “to reach the Legislature while it’s in session,” co-coordinator Fred Horch said.
  •   ANATOMY OF A RIP-OFF, PART II  |  March 06, 2014
    Imagine if state government gave out millions of dollars a year to fat-cat financiers, big banks,  and speculative ventures without monitoring how the money is spent — basically, giving it to whoever walks in the door as long as they flash a few credentials.
  •   ANATOMY OF A TAXPAYER RIP-OFF  |  February 19, 2014
    To try to restore several hundred mill jobs to the historic paper-making North Country towns of Millinocket and East Millinocket, Maine’s politicians, in a bipartisan manner, have given away and are planning to give away millions of taxpayer dollars to various corporate interests, including big, out-of-state banks.
  •   NO DEATH PENALTY FOR MAINE PRISONER  |  February 12, 2014
    In 2008, within a supposedly high-security prison in the giant federal correctional complex in Florence, Colorado, Gary Watland, a “boarder” from Maine, murdered another inmate, white supremacist Mark Baker.

 See all articles by: LANCE TAPLEY