STANDING UP FOR THE MASSES Jonathan Hillier, Kennebec County organizer for the Maine People's Alliance, consults with Becky Holbrook, a retired lawyer from Phippsburg.
We watch another good movie, Heist, about how the one percent stole the country's wealth. In it a labor leader says: "Rich people don't need governments." Except to funnel money to them. Bernie Sanders, Vermont's independent, socialist US senator, remarks in the film that this transfer of wealth involved "true bipartisanship." Even among the many committed Democrats here there's unhappiness with the party.
After a free, soup-and-salad lunch, the vision-goal-strategy talk starts to drag (we've already determined we also want fair-mindedness, opportunity, democracy, equity, etc.). We're down to 70 participants.
Things pick up when we discuss examples of nonviolent direct action. Some people suggest "alternative currency" and referenda, but others go for the more typical boycotts, strikes, and occupations.
How about a Woodstock in every city, suggests a man of a certain age wearing a fedora. Palma Ryan, 59, of Portland, an OccupyMaine stalwart who lived at the Lincoln Park encampment, sits on the other side of me. She whispers: "Occupystock?" Is the average age 60 here? There are young people, but gray hair is common.
We watch a video of an MPA "flash protest" last fall at a Bank of America branch in Brunswick. Scores of people file into the lobby. They chant, "This is what democracy looks like!" and present the manager with a "bill" for the taxes the giant bank didn't pay.
Finally, at 3:30, when only 50 people are left, we move to planning real action. But we don't get to create real action. It has been determined for us: protests on Tax Day at Bank of America branches.
I go to the group for the Augusta-area protest. The 10 people gathered will be the shock troops entering an Augusta branch to present a bill for unpaid taxes — re-enacting the Brunswick protest — as union members picket outside. The group practices entering and leaving the bank in a disciplined way.
These Tax Day protests across the country are intended to start a wave of progressive activism. Earth-day-related events, for example, will include an Occupy-involved walk from Portland to Augusta, from April 23 to May 1.
Occupy groups are more than an inspiration for 99% Spring. They're involved, if warily, while planning their own actions. OccupyMaine is preparing for the movement's May 1 national "general strike," although in Maine it looks like it will be much less than that.
As the session winds down, Kara Oster, 20, of Yarmouth, another OccupyMainer, observes, "It would have been nice to see what people came up with on their own" for actions. Still, the day was "a positive experience."
I ask Jennie Pirkl why groups weren't allowed to design their own direct action. It's "more realistic," she says, to have beginners join something already organized.
When in March I interviewed John Cavanagh, then director of the Institute for Policy Studies in DC, about 99% Spring's goals, he said one aim was "to train people to help prevent violence." Occupy Wall Street inspired mainstream progressive groups, but it also worried them. So in 99% Spring little was left to spontaneity.