MUNICIPAL SCRUTINY City officials inspect the OccupyMaine camp at Lincoln Park on November 17.
With OccupyBangor under near-constant threat of eviction, and Portland city officials pressing the Lincoln Park campers to scale back their encampment to a degree that will make winter survival difficult if not impossible, the Maine branch of the Occupy movement — like those elsewhere in the country — is at a crossroads.
Will the Occupiers get bogged down in real-estate disputes, digging deep into the legal quagmires associated with building codes, park hours, and small-time municipal regulations that only affect the actual encampments? Will they keep their focus on the issues that truly affect the 99 percent of Americans the Occupy movement was created to empower? Or will they do both, finding a way to "walk and chew gum at the same time," as OccupyMainer Alan Porter put it at Portland's Monday night general assembly?
"We're not fighting for the right to occupy a park here or there. We are fighting for justice. Justice, not just for the people of the US, but for everybody," bestselling author Arundhati Roy said in New York on November 16, in a speech to the People's University (the educational arm of Occupy Wall Street). Occupiers here and elsewhere are struggling with how to do that, while also deciding whether — and how — to best protect their encampments, which are leading symbols of the movement.
While Occupy Augusta has been largely untroubled by local regulations — in part because they are encamped on state land, not in a municipal park — the other two major Occupations in Maine are wrestling with peaceful versions of the conflicts that have erupted elsewhere into violence, with armed police attempting to forcibly dislodge nonviolent protestors from public spaces, often claiming concerns over public health or safety. (See Chris Faraone's report from the West Coast for just some examples of these clashes, plus David S. Bernstein's reporting on the crossroads facing Occupy Boston, as well as Occupy updates from around the country.)
In Bangor, the group has engaged in a week-long squabble with city officials over whether their presence in Peirce Park is an "event" or an "assembly." Under city code, "events" can be limited to three days' duration, while there is no city rule governing "assemblies," which the Occupy group says leaves them governed solely by the First Amendment — so they can stay indefinitely, as they would like.
On Monday, the Portland group won what some called a major victory, an acknowledgment that the General Assembly is a legitimate decision-making body that can negotiate with the City Council. But that came as a result of several days' time and energy spent addressing city concerns about public safety. The effort was initially prompted by the city's inspection of the camp on November 17, and a letter from city attorney Gary Wood the following day saying that "the code violations . . . and the increasing demand on the services of the Portland Police Department are stretching the ability and willingness of the City to continue to accommodate and allow [the Occupation] in the park."