The headlines in the Monday, Oct. 17, Bangor Daily News included an article that goes to the heart of what the Occupy Wall Street movement is all about: “State revenues $5.9 million in the black due to stronger-than-expected corporate tax collection.” Translation: Corporate profits continue to soar, while job growth plummets, unemployment spirals out of control, schools beg for supplies and foreclosures surge yet again.
This is not new — it has been the trend for years now. What’s new is that people are fed up with it and taking their message to the centers of corporate power. On Saturday, Oct. 15, occupations were held in 1,500 sites around the world, some drawing crowds of hundreds of thousands.
In Augusta, the seat of electoral politics and corporate lobbyists here in Maine, about 120 people from all walks of life gathered at the state Capitol and established a new Occupy Augusta site, complete with tents, portable toilets, first aid, food, water and sign-making tools.
Nearly the whole crowd joined a “21st century civics tour” of the seats of power that blanket the capital area. Walking from one office building to the next, people learned who pulls the strings behind the scenes of the Legislature. For example, some members of high-profile law firms, such as Severin Beliveau of Preti Flaherty, are engaged as lobbyists for industrial and speculative developers like Plum Creek. Onlookers learned that although lobbyists may belong to one political party, they raise money and lobby whichever party is in power.
The tours will continue to be held as the Occupy Augusta movement grows.
Saturday morning in Capitol Park, police insisted that the campers get permits because camping is forbidden there, and they were risking arrest. But when one of the organizers told them that arrests would only draw more and more people, the police backed off. There has been a quiet sense of benign oversight ever since. Even when police in cars sped past sign-carrying protesters, they waved approvingly to the cheering crowd.
On Sunday, the numbers were far fewer but no less dedicated to sending the message of discontent and outrage. I stood beside a young woman with a sign that read, ”I am a single Mom. I work full time. I have no health insurance. I am the 99 percent.”
I asked another woman from Jay why she came. She began to speak, but her lips quivered, nothing came out, until finally she said, “I get so emotional, I get all choked up when I try to talk about it.”
Fred Maim of East Dixfield told me that he came because he’s on disability and has had no cost of living increase in three years. “Congress gives themselves a raise when they want it, but not us. Cuts should start at the top, not the bottom.”
Another young man said he was working for $9 an hour and couldn’t make his rent or transportation and support his son on those wages.
And so the stories go. When you see the oceans of people in clips of the occupations, it is good to remember that every one of them has a story.
When organizer Diane Messer of Liberty was asked how long they intended to stay, her emphatic answer was, “Indefinitely!” She added that although a small core of people will stay overnight in the tents, it is not necessary to support the movement.
“What is important is to show up, make noise, bring good cheer and strong convictions,” said Richard Stander of Stockton Springs. “It’s uplifting and energizing just to be here.”
The intent seems to be that, just like the dozen or so who first tented overnight at Wall Street, these people mean to stay for the long run. Two general assemblies are held every day, at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m., and are open to the public, if you want to see how this new paradigm of democratic processing works. Oh — and bring firewood.
Nancy Galland is a retired organic farmer who lives in Stockton Springs.