We'd hope so, of course - we'd hope that the council would
behave equably toward all petitioners, from all quarters. We'll have to see
councilors are up to that challenge, which is made sharper by the
anti-corporate nature of the Occupy movement's message. Attend the meeting at City Hall at 7 pm - public comments are welcome - and see for yourself what happens.
It is normal practice for companies seeking permission from
the council to do whatever they want - a new building, rezoning, stage an event
in a public space - to be met with a collaborative spirit from councilors and council
committees. Applications are treated as suggestions, with councilors often
suggesting revisions and engaging in back-and-forth about what the goals are
for the request, and finding ways to assuage any councilors' concerns while
still allowing the the project to go forward.
Most of the time, when dealing with developers and other
businesses, the Portland
council - like most I've seen in action around the state - takes a "how can we
make this happen" approach, often negotiating around the details but rarely
rejecting an idea out of hand.
Enter OccupyMaine. Its reception before the council's Public
Safety Committee was frosty, at best (see my post from last week), and
certainly didn't signal that those three councilors were willing to really work
with the Occupiers.
Even Dave Marshall, who might have led the discussion into
collaborative territory, declined to truly engage with the Occupiers, instead imagining
himself voting the Occupy petition "up or down" - despite the fact that almost
nothing that comes before the council gets a simple yes/no vote with no
discussion or negotiation. Sure enough, his less tolerant committee cohorts, Ed
Suslovic and John Coyne, jumped on that bandwagon and charged to a unanimous
recommendation that the council reject the petition outright.
Disappointed by undaunted, the Occupy group took what
feedback the committee members gave into consideration and revised their
petition to specifically address several areas of public-safety concern that
came up repeatedly during the meeting.
Despite the lack of willingness for dialogue on the
committee's part, the Occupiers assumed that at least some councilors are
operating in good faith, and moved to continue the conversation.
In the revised petition, the Occupiers made this move extremely
clear: "OccupyMaine is willing to consider additional substantive changes as
necessary to address any other concerns that may be voiced by the City Council
or City Officials."
Swallowing their pride, the Occupiers are accepting that
they have been spurned once, and are still extending their hands to the city,
hoping to engage in a dance.
It is important to take a moment to remember that this is a
process intended from its outset to begin solving the public-safety problems
that have arisen at and alongside the Occupation. If the City Council does not
engage in a discussion, it will be clear that the councilors don't actually
care about the public-safety problems, but simply want the Occupiers gone.
Removing them might not be so simple. Along with a federal
judge's expected ruling tomorrow in Bangor,
and with judges around the country taking up Occupy-related cases, the American
Civil Liberties Union of Maine has now entered the fray, saying it supports the
Occupy group's right to stay in the park around the clock in protest, and
expressly talking about potential court action.
But the ACLU of Maine
also touches a point that OccupyMaine attorney John Branson hit in the
committee meeting: the city should not allow this protest to continue because
it is protected by the First Amendment, or because a court ruling requires the
city to grin and bear it.
Rather, the city should welcome with open arms this new
groundswell of public engagement in civic processes, and allow it to continue
because it is a good idea. Just the way the city handles requests from private