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.