Occupy Augusta gives homeless decorated veteran a new home


December 11, 2011
Occupy Augusta photographed in November. Determined to stay, some Occupy Augusta protesters were arrested when they took their protest against being evicted to the Blaine House. Just before publication, Occupy Augusta was evicted for not having a permit. photo by Ramona du Houx

Marine Sergeant Ryan has found he feels at home with a community of people who have taken the time to listen to him and care about what he has been through. Those people are currently occupying Capitol Park in Augusta.

“I lost my elbow and endured over 30 surgeries. I have severe post traumatic stress disorder and can’t hold down a job,” said Ryan. “I’m doing better now. Being with people that hear me — even if they can’t understand what I went through — the fact that they are willing to listen means the world to me. So many vets like me need that.”

Every evening at 6:45, Occupy Augusta members gather in an authentic Penobscot teepee, which was blessed by one of the tribe’s elders in a ceremony. They sit in a circle around the fire’s hearth and take turns discussing issues important to each individual. During these meetings they plan on how best to serve their new community, and how best to get their message out to the public.

“I want jobs back for my community in Jackman, which have been outsourced. I grew up watching logging trucks roll by — not anymore,” said Ryan. “In Iraq I had a reason for being — a mission. Back here I’ve been so lost. This movement has given me a mission again. It’s home.”

“We are the 99 percent,” as many banners declare, is everyone’s doctrine here. It defines the unity of separate peoples; it is their cause saying, “We’re not going to take it anymore.”

They are people from all walks of life, young, middle-aged, and elderly, working, unemployed, or underemployed. They’ve watched in silence for years as the top one percent of American society has become obscenely rich, while the cost of education, health care, and living have skyrocketed. They are united against corporate greed and want something done about it. They have Occupied Maine in Bangor and Portland as well as Augusta, making a stand under the First Amendment right to assembly, because they want their grievances to be known.

Those grievances are long and tell the stories of people who actually still believe in the American Dream and want it back. They intend to Occupy Maine and other cities around the county, until they are assured action is being taken by those in power to right the wrongs they see.

The freedom to participate in a general assembly is guaranteed under the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America. Many cities in Maine are demanding occupiers sign a permit for an “event.” If they do so, that changes the movement’s status from an assembly to an event and opens the door to eviction. The movement’s assembly is in the occupying of an area day and night.

“To hold a peaceful assembly to redress grievances is protected by the First Amendment. It speaks to the heart — the foundation of our Democracy, where every citizen counts, has the right to be heard and to assembly to do so,” said Diane Messer, a former army logistics officer who keeps the group well stocked and functional.

In Augusta they are organized and are preparing for winter. The teepee provides a central meeting place; two wood stoves are supplying heat to another tent.

“We’re here for as long as it takes,” said Messer. “Anything that’s worth fighting for is worth the suffering.”

The vast majority of people who visit the park’s inhabitants are supportive. On the street that divides the Capitol from the park, there is a constant stream of protestors waving their signs. Cars honk in support in earshot of the governor’s residence.

Recently the Occupy encampments in Augusta, Portland, and Bangor shank, due to some officials trying to “restore order.” Determined to stay, some Occupy Augusta protesters were arrested when they took to the Blaine House their protest against being evicted.

Just before publication, Occupy Augusta was evicted for not having a permit.