OccupyMaine charts its future

By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  September 26, 2012

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OCCUPY EVERYWHERE

"We can't eat picket signs," OccupyMainer Rob Korobkin recently wrote on the group's Facebook page. "Hoping year two sees the creation of lots of sustainable, community-based infrastructure."

As the Lincoln Park camp came down, OccupyMaine established an office at the Meg Perry Center on Congress Street, itself a common space for members of Portland's peace and justice community. A loose coalition of interested parties still holds a weekly General Assembly, at 6 pm on Wednesday evenings in Congress Square plaza.

That plaza has become Ground Zero of another Occupy fight, this one hyper-local. Along with other organizations and some city officials, OccupyMainers have committed to defending Congress Square from private development by the new owners of the Eastland Park Hotel. While developers say the park is under-utilized (at least by people who aren't homeless), Occupiers want to preserve non-commercial public space for all Portlanders — including those who are underprivileged. The relatively small open space has come to symbolize some of the city's deepest, and often unspoken, reservations about its homeless and low-income residents, those same vulnerable members of the 99 percent who comprised part of the population at the Lincoln Park encampment.

"This city is still a pretty tough place to live if you don't have any money," Korobkin says.

To that end, he envisions OccupyMaine addressing basic needs by providing training for community organizers, building bridges with like-minded nonprofits and social-service groups, and helping to develop communal living and eating situations. And, of course, by thinking creatively about housing.

"I'm eager to build a state-wide movement for housing justice," he says, which could include public education, social networking and outreach to people experiencing housing insecurity or homelessness, "a political movement pressuring Augusta to pass some legal protections and debt reduction laws," and a shift toward alternative housing arrangements. "As long as a tiny class of bankers and landlords own the buildings we inhabit, we will never be free."

Pursuing these goals may mean fracturing into smaller interest groups under the Occupy umbrella. Doing so could appeal to all sorts of allies, such as Alan Churchill, president of the Southern Maine Labor Council and vice-president of the Teamsters Local 340.

"Of course I think there are some things that align us," Churchill says of the unions he represents and the Occupy movement. "We are in a time of unprecedented greed. Employers don't feel any sense of responsibility toward the community . . . to the public in general."

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