It appears time to consider the possibility that the
pro-business, anti-public ethos that plagues American
politics has also started to infect Portland's
To wit: Most Portland
city councilors love to make deals with corporations, but have no interest in finding a way for people to protest
overnight in city parks, despite repeated attempts on the part of OccupyMaine
members, the city manager, the city attorney, and even a fellow councilor to
persuade them to try it.
Perhaps they were swayed by statistics from the police
department showing increased activity right outside the police station's back
door, at the Lincoln
Perhaps they were unpersuaded by an Occupy supporter's mention that comparing
police calls at Lincoln
Park today to a year
ago is like comparing police activity at a stadium on game day as opposed to a
midweek afternoon, or from another's that the same activity has happened in
Lincoln Park for years but nobody called the cops until Occupy started.
In any case, despite repeated and increasingly clear statements
that the petition from OccupyMaine was a starting point for discussion and
could be amended to the council's pleasure - the same way all proposals from
businesses are - seven councilors and the newly elected mayor, Mike Brennan,
voted to reject the application as written, with no dicussion of modifications
that would have a better chance of being acceptable in the future.
Here are several interesting statements from the councilors,
followed by particularly sharp points from the public comments section, at
which 53 people spoke, with just five opposing the Occupation.
IMPORTANT: So far, city officials - including Brennan and Acting Police
Chief Mike Sauschuck - have been very clear in their assurances to the Occupy
group and to the media that no forcible eviction is planned, and that the group
has time to react to the city's decision without fear of violence, as has
happened in other cities.
When councilors spoke, they typically followed a basic
pattern, stating their First Amendment support and respect, and then shutting
down the most innovative, disruptive form of free speech, expression, and assembly
the country has yet seen in its history.
Ed Suslovic appeared stuck for quite a while on
technicalities of paperwork, and several times said he wanted city staff's
guidance on whether what OccupyMaine had submitted would be considered legally
His major issue, though, was about limiting the numbers in
the park, a key request from city staff on public-safety grounds. Suslovic was
worried about who would control or enforce that limit. He did not propose a
solution, but simply observed that it was a problem for him, calling it "giving
one group exclusive license over public property."
He also claimed "we gave ample feedback" at the Public
Safety Committee meeting, which he chaired - and which unanimously rejected an
earlier version of OccupyMaine's petition, without proposing any specific
amendments that might have passed muster.
He specifically said he doesn't want to open parks to the
Cheryl Leeman initially
claimed that the council was to be voting on the petition as is, and said
"there's no negotiating those terms," triggering yet another round of
assurances that it, like any other request that comes before the council, could
be entirely rewritten by the council if they chose.
She outright admitted she didn't get the message: "I
disagree that a permanent encampment is required to support the mission of
She objected to the "contradictory" nature of limiting the
size of the protest - though the city wanted that, not the occupiers - and
called it "exclusionary."
She also admitted that never in her many years on the council has
she dealt with anything like this.
And said "from a technical standpoint, it's all wrong" and
specified that while she is interested in talking about the issues OccupyMaine
is raising, she is not interested in talking about the encampment.
John Anton, in heartfelt comments, seemed earnestly to be
seeking dialogue with the Occupiers, telling his fellow councilors that "there
is a third path" they could take: "there is yes, no, or continue to talk."
He also summarized the disconnect well: "We have two very
earnest cultures that are expressing themselves in very different ways" - the
council and Occupy.
Inviting a new application with more specifics, he said it
was his belief that the "First Amendment trumps municipal ordinances, and the
boundaries of that are unclear."
Urging them to continue, he told Occupy: "I feel like we do
our best work as a council when we're out of our comfort zone. That's what
But then, having said a lot of nice things about dialogue,
he didn't take the "third path" he had suggested. He voted no.
David Marshall took up the mantle he declined at the public
safety committee meeting, and became a voice for continued conversation with
Occupy. "I feel we should really continue dialogue," he said. "It would be a
great gesture on the part of the city."
"We're in this position because of decisions the city has
made" and requests the city has made that Occupy has honored. "I don't see that
the Occupiers are doing anything illegal."
He said he had expected that the council would go through
the petition closely and work on it, making changes and suggestions along the
way. But instead, "We have a council that's not willing to negotiate" - even
though the city makes exceptions to rules all the time.
He said the First Amendment is "more than just freedom of
speech . . . it says that you cannot abridge the freedom of assembly" - and
therefore, he supported the Occupiers' right to assemble 24/7 in Lincoln Park.
Jill Duson said she supports 24/7 protests "anywhere in the
city" but said freedom of speech is not "freedom to convert a public park into
a residential community."
"I think it's better for us to get to court as soon as
possible," she said, adding: "We ought to just deny it and allow a court to
decide whether freedom of speech includes occupation of a public park."
Nick Mavodones, like Leeman, admitted he didn't grok the
concept of the Occupy movement: "I don't think it has to be a 24-hour protest."
He also said some other confusing things: "taking over and
living in the park right across the street is problematic" - thereby admitting
that Occupy's existence is a message, and suggesting he didn't want to see it.
Then he got really mixed up. "I have no issue with people
protesting in that park whenever they feel it's appropriate," he said, going on
to contradict himself by telling the Occupiers that even though they clearly
did think it "appropriate" to protest overnight, he had an issue with that.
John Coyne, among the most militantly Occupy-opposed
councilors from the early days of the protest, suggested that the sum total of
"what goes on down there" is crime, and then went so far as to suggest that
kicking them out of Lincoln Park
would "reduce crime by 30 percent." He appeared to draw that figure from
statements by Sauschuck that 30 percent of the arrests in the Old Port
area between October 1 and December 5 were in Lincoln Park.
He appeared not to assume that several of those arrests, including of a man
wanted on a warrant from New York,
would have happened elsewhere in the city.
He also drew smirks when he called the Occupy movement a
Kevin Donoghue also seemed to be mixed up about the inclusive
nature of the movement, and the reason Occupy proposed limiting protesters'
numbers. "We are talking about exclusive use of space," he said, urging the Occupiers to
seek redress in court "not as a confrontational venue but as a clarifying venue."
In closing, he dismissed much of the evening's work by saying, "I do appreciate
Mike Brennan acknowledged that both OccupyMaine and the city
recognize the current situation isn't working, and said what's been submitted
doesn't address the problems yet. He said he wants to work with Occupy on this
(and followed that up after the meeting with a request to meet with Occupy
attorney John Branson on Thursday afternoon).
"I do believe that the issues here are deep enough, are
important enough" to warrant additional work by the city, he said, "to see if
in fact there is a permit that can cross the Ts" that other councilors were
In the event of no approval, he expressly promised no
excessive force in removing the protesters: "We are not interested in being Oakland. We are not
interested in being New York."
And even when it was clear that the council would vote no
(with Brennan among them) that night, he said, "there's still an opportunity
tomorrow to engage in dialogue."
OccupyMaine attorney John Branson observed that the protest
is against "the corporate takeover of our public spaces and our democratic
government," and said the nature of the protest is "a form of speech, assembly,
and demonstration that requires by definition the ability to maintain a
continued presence in public space."
Senate candidate Bill Slavick reminded the council that during the Great Depression,
the government put millions to work in a matter of weeks - and observed that no
such action is happening now. "Enough of greed rampant."
Rachel Lyn Rumson read OccupyMaine's statement for redress
of grievances, as approved by the December 4 GA: "OccupyMaine seeks initial redress
of grievances and hereby requests that the City of Portland
take the following actions:
1. Withdraw all City funds from TD Bank and transfer those
funds to a locally owned bank or credit union.
2. Develop methods for increased direct democracy and public
engagement, including, as a starting point, making the State of Maine
Room available for a weekly City of Portland
that would develop proposals and recommendations for consideration and action
by the City Council.
3. Increase support for homeless people in Portland
including those who have come to live at Lincoln Park.
Begin by working with homeless people in Lincoln Park
to get them into housing and address other needs that they have.
4. Create a 24-hour free speech and assembly space in Monument Square
where people can assemble at any hour to engage in non-commercial First
Local activist and business owner Jonah Fertig said "our
democracy is getting bought out by corporations," and specifically said "I want
to hear the city council talk about the corporations and the bankers."
Corporate lobbyist Chris O'Neil of the Portland Regional Chamber revealed much of the
hypocrisy the Occupiers are decrying, both by saying he wasn't going to talk
about constitutional questions and then spending most of his time doing exactly
that, and by admitting he represents "the chamber who is often here decrying
regulations" but said the ones preventing free speech in public spaces "are
there for a reason"
Zachary Heiden, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, said
negotiations were possible, and were indeed
the right way forward. "There is a way to address these concerns" of safety and
health, he said, urging
the councilors to "try to find a way to say yes to this group rather than
trying to find a way to say no."
Francis Martin, known in camp as "Seamus," said "I have
lived in Portland in a tent for years . . . I
live in a tent hidden in the woods" but only now that he is living in a tent in
does he feel like he belongs.
Robert Witham Jr. said the city right now provides no place
to protest 24/7, but for people who take things very seriously, that's a limit
- the law actually prevents people from taking things so seriously that they're
willing to protest 24/7.
said the city supports corporations all the time, including the Pierce Atwood
tax break. He also said that if the encampment must be removed, city councilors
should be on site to observe and supervise
John Newcomb of the Maine
AFL-CIO and the Southern Maine Labor Council
suggested the city spend some money on free speech, pointedly observing, "look
at the money some of you have spent just on this election, Mayor Brennan."
(Brennan spent $41,075, according to campaign-finance filings.)
Brian Leonard said chief city building inspector Tammy
Munson was thorough, but suggested she was overzealous and drew a parallel to the tough conditions earlier
patriots endured: "I'm terribly sorry she wasn't there in General Washington's encampment at Valley
Porter said peace in Lincoln Park
is possible. "For five weeks we did enjoy peace . . . "It wasn't until the
closing of Milestone that it all fell apart." That happened on November 1, when
federal funding problems forced the 41-bed emergency shelter to shut down,
which lasted about 10 days. Then, Porter
added, "once-traditional camping areas for our city's homeless were broken up."
In a final observation that Lincoln Park has always been home to the
homeless, he said, "No matter your decision, there will be people who stay in
the park after you tell them to go."
Other speakers, whose names I didn't hear, and who I was
unable to track down in the crowd, said several interesting things.
One man decried the encampment as a "magnet" for problems
that previously occurred in less visible places in the city, and seemed to
suggest those issues should go back into hiding.
Another noted that the city spends massive resources
supporting corporations with TIFs and tax incentives, and lamented that it is
apparently unwilling to spend even a little bit to support free speech.
Another supporter observed the alternatives to working with
the Occupiers, describing the police violence in other cities that led to
standoffs, even larger protests, and lawsuits. Suggesting the city could
choose, she asked if they wanted a forcible eviction with cartoonishly
disproportionate municipal violence, or "do you want to just call us up and say
that's not allowed under the permit."
A woman observed that no permit was necessary for the "early
patriots" who gathered
and sometimes camped, nor for the lunch-counter sit-ins of the Civil Rights
A senior at UNE who is studying to be a teacher spent his
three minutes of talk time lecturing Occupy on how to be effective, suggesting
the group work "through the system that we have," apparently without irony, and
definitely without observing that they seek to change that system, not
perpetuate it by participating in it.
One person said the Occupiers were using toilets belonging
to local businesses, but the claim rang hollow with no business owner (nor even
any business-group lobbyist) saying there was a problem.
One warning may ring truest of all, from a Marine veteran
quoting John F. Kennedy: "Those who make peaceful revolution
impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."