Building a new activism

By JEFF INGLIS  |  September 26, 2013

Beyond the Petition
Occupiers have also appeared in other areas of Portland’s public life. Holly Seeliger traces the beginnings of winning a seat on the Portland School Committee to her involvement with OccupyMaine. It “provided me an opportunity to meet and network with local and regional activists, introduced me to the Green Party through members that stopped by the camp in Lincoln Park, and encouraged me to ‘think globally, act locally’ and run” for office, she writes in an email to the Phoenix. She is not the only OccupyMaine member to have run for office, though she is the only one who succeeded in her campaign.

A small group has continued to fight foreclosure, advising people whose homes are in foreclosure, or who are at risk of being foreclosed upon, on ways to defend their property and their rights.

Other Occupiers, including Leonard, have joined the fight against tar sands being transported through Maine. (See “South Portlanders Petition to Put Tar-Sands Project on the Ballot,” by Deirdre Fulton, June 14.)

And a great many have reappeared in public consciousness through the effort to save Congress Square Plaza from being sold in a hurried, discounted sale to an Ohio-based investment company run by former Wall Street fat cats. The concrete space was home to several Occupy protests during the height of the group’s activity, including one against President Barack Obama’s fundraising dinner at the Portland Museum of Art.

The plaza has been the site of general-assembly meetings and other actions by OccupyMaine and related groups for more than a year, since RockBridge Capital first proposed buying the park from the city. Many ideas have come forward for revitalizing the space (for example, see “Reimagining Portland,” by Calvin Dunwoody, August 24, 2012). The council falsely limited debate to RockBridge’s proposal or the status quo, ignoring fascinating options from design firms and citizens alike.

As a result of this limited, broken process, there is likely to be more protesting and civil disobedience in the coming weeks and months; Leonard says when the time comes, “I’ll be there to record it.”

Opposing corporate ownership
The Congress Square Plaza situation is emblematic of the problem Occupiers identified two years ago: important organs of our democracy no longer answer to the people, but act as if they have been bought and paid for by corporate interests.

“They wouldn’t sell me that park for $500,000,” Leonard scoffs, noting the pitifully low value placed on public space in the heart of the downtown, even by those charged with protecting the public’s interest.

During the conversations about what should be done with the one-third of the park that the city did not sell to RockBridge (see “Talk Now About the Future of Congress Square?” by Jeff Inglis, September 20), Leonard says he’ll propose putting up a podium at which the six councilors who voted in favor of the deal “can resign from the City Council.”

As Branson puts it, all these individuals are putting in so much effort because they see real problems in our city and our society, but from the national down through the local levels, they “have given up on Congress and elections as a solution.” Instead, they have ushered in “a new form of activism and community involvement,” one that has already long outlasted the encampments, and spread far beyond Lincoln Park. 

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