Occupy Maine gets support from unions as demonstration nears one-week mark

Benjamin Hider of Portland wears a mask and holds up a sign Monday. The group Occupy Maine has joined in solidarity with Wall Street protesters in New York and across the country who are demonstrating against corporate greed and other issues.
Pat Wellenbach | AP
Benjamin Hider of Portland wears a mask and holds up a sign Monday. The group Occupy Maine has joined in solidarity with Wall Street protesters in New York and across the country who are demonstrating against corporate greed and other issues.
Posted Oct. 07, 2011, at 12:29 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 22, 2011, at 2:08 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Members of a group angry about corporate influence on government has found support from southern Maine labor unions as they close in on a week of camping out in downtown Portland.

The Occupy Maine settlement, a local offshoot of a nationwide network of demonstrations that began in mid-September with Occupy Wall Street, reaches its seventh day Friday, and members say their group is still growing. This weekend, Occupy Maine will celebrate what it’s calling Free Speech Weekend with music, yoga and art making.

Members of the Occupy movement have been calling themselves “the 99 percent,” referring to all those who are not among the 1 percent of the American population who control nearly half of wealth in the country. That 1 percent, occupiers argue, have an unfair amount of influence on federal governance.

“We’re getting bigger and bigger,” said Demi Colby, 23, of Gardiner, who took part in Occupy Wall Street and returned to her home state to help launch Occupy Maine on Saturday, Oct. 1.

Some members are now wearing pins bearing the logo of the Teamsters Local 340, and the group’s information table, set up for passers-by, includes a copy of a resolution of support issued by the Southern Maine Labor Council.

The Southern Maine Labor Council includes representatives from local branches of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the American Postal Workers Union and the Maine State Employees Association, in addition to the Teamsters.

“The corporate lobbyists and Wall Street bankers need to be reined in and held accountable for the impact they’ve had on our economy,” Kenneth Eaton, president of Local 340 of the Teamsters Union said Friday. “Businesses and banks need to loosen up some of those trillions of dollars they’re sitting on to create jobs. The grievances of the 99 percent are the same grievances that we have and that our brothers and sisters have in the labor movement. The 1 percent should listen to Warren Buffet when he says to tax the wealthy more.”

Occupy Maine still has a presence in two Portland locations: Monument Square, where teams of demonstrators stay throughout each day, and Lincoln Park, where the group has made an encampment of several tents following the city’s announcement that members can’t stay in Monument Square overnight.

At Lincoln Park, Occupy Maine also has tables set up under a canopy with food, blankets and medical supplies.

Colby said Occupy Maine is “getting a lot more organized,” and is continuing to conduct its business through a slate of committees that report back to a central general assembly of all interested group members.

Chris Levesque, 22, of Biddeford, is a member of the group’s finance committee. He told the Bangor Daily News many passers-by are bringing donations of food, blankets and money to the encampment.

“Spirits are definitely high,” Levesque said. “There are no plans to leave any time soon.”

Levesque said Occupy Maine began a week ago as a collection of individuals brought together by a common dissatisfaction with the direction of the country, but has galvanized over the past seven days.

“It’s turning into a strong community,” he said. “When I came up five days ago, I didn’t know anybody. Now I love these people. That’s the thing about this. It’s about people helping people. Generosity is the currency here.”

Levesque said that, unlike in other Occupy locations around the country, where there have been highly publicized run-ins with police, the Maine demonstrators have kept mostly positive relations with the Portland police.

Colby was issued a summons on Oct. 2 for putting up a tent in Monument Square when the group did not have a permit for a temporary structure, but since then the city has told the group they can stay overnight in Lincoln Park and has offered to allow members to put up a canopy in the city center when there is inclement weather.

Earlier in the week, Occupy Maine issued a press release stating that the city would allow the group to demonstrate for just one week, but city spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said Friday the city is not placing a cap on the amount of time the group can demonstrate. She said the city does want to be sure it also accommodates other scheduled uses for Monument Square and Lincoln Park, however, such as the twice weekly farmers markets at Monument Square and the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer fundraiser event slated for Oct. 16 in the downtown.

Police officers “are part of the 99 percent, too,” Levesque said. “They’re one call away from being on the streets with us.”

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