Code issues were not substantially addressed during Monday afternoon's meeting between OccupyMaine representatives and city officials. (A meeting later this week will address those problems, and the city's requested solutions, such as removal of larger structures, which may make camping in Lincoln Park very difficult over the winter.) Rather, safety concerns were the topic of the day, in the wake of four recent arrests, and the discovery that two teenage runaways had visited the Occupy camp during some of their four-day disappearance.
The arrests were of an Occupier allegedly assaulting a visitor who came to criticize the movement, of two people who allegedly assaulted camp organizer Porter (one person allegedly choked him with bare hands, while another is said by police and protestors alike to have hit Porter in the head with a hammer; Porter was treated and released from Maine Medical Center); and of a man allegedly carrying a concealed knife. The runaway girls were located over the weekend on the Eastern Prom; Occupy attorney and spokesman John Branson says they fled Lincoln Park when they learned that Occupiers were assisting the police search for them.
After the Porter incident, the Occupiers issued a statement reaffirming their commitment to nonviolence. It is a statement that might form part of what Branson calls a "social compact" that the group may develop for members to subscribe to if they wish to continue participating in the effort.
Such an agreement, Branson says, is likely key to a process by which the Occupation could apply for a permit from the city that, if granted, could create a legal structure under which Occupiers and city officials alike would be confident in orderly management of the encampment.
But what's in such a permit request, what's agreed to by the City Council over the next few weeks, and even whether the group is going to apply in the first place are unclear at the moment. Branson says that the First Amendment nature of the protest does not require a permit, but says such an agreement with the city could help address public-safety concerns that might trump the Occupiers' constitutional rights if the case ended up in court.
The very suggestion of a requirement that Occupiers agree to a certain set of rules — as well as what Branson characterizes as a city intention of "compressing the number of tents and people in Lincoln Park" — already conflict with the all-inclusive, all-welcoming principle that has helped define a movement that stands for "the 99 percent."
And all such discussions, which (like the Monday night General Assembly) can result in drawn-out meetings with often circular conversations, shift away from the wider issues concerning the 99 percent. (The Portland group has not been totally diverted; they organized a couple of small protests over the past few days.)
"We get distracted by what authorities throw at us," Jonah Fertig told the group Monday evening. Porter put it more plainly: "We're bogged down" by smaller issues, he said. "We have not addressed the issues that we are actually here for."
Porter suggested making a backup plan for what could happen if the city does not approve a permit, or if the Occupiers don't decide to ask for one. He proposed seeking a parcel of private property where the Occupation could continue without so much interference from local government, and return to its core messages of concern about financial inequality and corporate interference in politics.
It's only a short step from that idea to leaving the encampments behind entirely and making reality out of what has until now been just a popular slogan: Occupy Everywhere.