By Greta Rybus
December 11th, 2011
Despina stood in a makeshift kitchen in Portland Maine’s downtown Lincoln Park, with a cluster of ripe bananas in her hands. She had brought them for the dozen or so Occupy Maine protestors who have been living here for weeks. “I drive by here twice a day, and I just look and think, ‘Young people need food,’” she said, then added, “This is not the country I grew up in. I support them 100 percent.”
A week later, on October 23rd, an opponent of the movement threw a homemade, chemical bomb into this very kitchen in the early hours of the morning. It didn’t cause any major harm: primarily noise and smoke. But the news spread nationally.
The Occupy Movement officially began on September 17, in Manhattan’s Liberty Square, inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. It began as a means of resistance against the influence of major banks and corporations over the democratic process. It has spread to over 100 cities in the United States. Organized resistance began in Portland on October 2nd, with similar protest activity in Augusta, South Portland, and Bangor.
On October 15th, the Occupy Movement officially went global and has spread to 1,500 cities. In Portland, the day was celebrated with a march and a gathering. Many protesters shared their worries for the future and anger and apprehensions about the global economy. Abby, at the protest with her three daughters, said, “I feel like we can’t vote to make our change. No vote will do anything at this point. I don’t know how much more simply our family can live. My husband works well over 40 hours a week, just to buy food. I’m just sick of the lack of representation.”
Many Americans seem to share this sentiment. In a telephone poll of 1,001 Americans, Time Magazine reported that 81 percent of Americans felt that the nation was on the wrong path and 73 percent favored raising taxes on those who earn over one million dollars. And 54 percent viewed the Occupy movement favorably (23 percent viewed it unfavorably).
The focus of this protest is not the government but the wealthy and a general misappropriation of power. Organizer Rob Korobkin explained, “This movement is about everyday, hard-working Americans feeling fed up with being left isolated, exploited, and neglected by those in power — and making a decision to come together, to turn our city’s public spaces into loci of genuine community, places where we can share our stories, ideas, and spiritual energy with our neighbors. And, yes, we are angry, but — so is almost everybody who recognizes how uncertain our future is and is afraid that things will become darker in the days and years ahead.”
Chris Shistler has been living at Occupy Portland’s camp since it began. “I hold up signs. I do security to make sure everything is okay where we are camping out. I do anything and everything I possibly can to help the movement,” he said. “Before I was here, I was working a full-time job. I do construction, and I’m on a leave now. I also did nine and a half years in the U.S. Marine Corps. You have to stand up, have your voices heard. Stop the corporate ruling.”
Dozens of other protestors have joined Shistler in staying overnight at the camp and many Mainers have joined in Occupy Maine events and activities as allies of the movement. The Maine State Nurses Association recently pledged their support, providing aid, donating supplies, and joining protesters in Monument Square. “But anybody who honks their horn in solidarity is playing a part in it; regardless of the specific actions we take, we’re all in this together,” said Korobokin.
Shistler says, with a hint of pride, that he was one of the original protestors to be kicked out of Monument Square, where some protestors first began their occupation. Allegedly due to worries of the protestors’ health and access to sanitation, officials requested the protestors relocate, and they moved to their current location in Lincoln Park. Despite the chemical bomb, Occupy Maine has remained relatively peaceful, whereas over a thousand have been arrested in New York City, and recently many were injured by police forces in Oakland, California.
The consensus from protestors in Portland is that this is just the beginning. Each evening, there is a General Assembly Meeting at the park, and a march is scheduled each Saturday. Organizers have planned daily events for broadening skills related to safety, activism, and planning. Currently, the greatest concern is impending winter weather and the ways it might affect local and nationwide efforts. Occupiers have posted requests for donations on their Web site (room-sized tents, trash bags, storage containers, propane tanks) but note that donations of coats and food have been frequent. Most needed, organizers say, is time and volunteer service.
For each movement, there are supporters, opponents, and participants. For Portland, there are people like Despina, bringing armfuls of food or honking car horns to show support. There are people who shout or throw bombs. Or, there are people like Shistler, who, by spending his nights in a tent in a park, have made his home revolutionary.
Portland City Manager Rees requested that attorney John Branson and his client (members of Occupy Maine) communicate to the City by Thursday, December 15, 2011, their plans following the determination by the City that they do not have the right to continue to keep tents and other structures in Lincoln Park.
In a public hearing — and although the voice of the public was overwhelmingly supportive of Occupy Maine’s presence, with 49 speakers in favor and only 4 opposed — it was voted by the City Council to reject the permit that it had previously demanded of the occupation. Most councilors seemed to know what Occupy stands for, yet they failed to grasp the necessity of a physical occupation; some of them wondered whether an encampment of individuals coming together as a community could be considered an “assembly.” They were also alarmed that Occupy Maine had requested the park (which closes at 10:00 p.m.) be designated a “24-hour free-speech zone,” — citing concern that it would somehow prevent the citizens of the city to practice their free speech and right to assemble.