Occupy Augusta brings Wall Street protests to Capitol

Posted Oct. 17, 2011, at 11:38 a.m.
Last modified Nov. 22, 2011, at 2:05 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — More than two dozen Occupy Augusta activists who have been camping in an expansive park across the street from the State House said Monday they’ll stay indefinitely in hopes of getting across their belief that government has failed the people and chooses instead to bow to the wishes of major corporations.

A spokesman for Occupy Augusta, Will Neils of Hope, said the group is refining its issues but wants to focus on what’s wrong in Maine. He said each Occupy group — another one continued its campout Monday in downtown Portland — develops its issues by consensus of its participants.

“At this point in time this group has consistently voiced its primary concern in our state, and how we as a community will deal with the challenges we face at this time in this state,” said Neils.

Another group member, Hillary Lister of Athens, said protesters think government is not representing the people and that corporations are “not people and should not be treated as people.”

A group of about 30 on Saturday occupied a small corner of Capitol Park, a 34-acre grassy preserve of stately trees and a few monuments, and set up a large tent where supplies are stored. Another temporary cover provides extra shelter for smaller tents where protesters sleep. Two portable toilets have been set up at the request of Capitol Police.

Neils said Capitol Police have been “extremely respectful” and that Chief Russ Gauvin “acknowledged that things like this are happening all over the country right now.”

“He was very aware of the dynamics,” said Neils. “He said that at this time it is OK for us to be here which is of course in keeping with our wishes.”

Gauvin said a permit is required to camp out as the protesters have done, but the group preferred to not get one as an act of civil disobedience. So the decision was made to set ground rules to ensure safety and sanitation. Permits are free.

“They were very cooperative. They understood our concerns,” said Gauvin. Aside from one complaint about evening drumming that quickly was resolved, there have been no complaints about the group’s presence, he said.

The Occupy group’s first big test may come Wednesday, when heavy rain from a tropical storm that’s predicted could dump 2 inches of rain on the state. As the week started, nighttime temperatures were expected to dip to the mid-40s.

A small knot of protesters who held signs near the State House steps said that by far the majority of reactions they received from motorists were positive, usually in the form on honking horns.

David Clark of Chelsea, one of the sign holders, said beating drums heard at times from the site are “a morale booster” and meant to represent “the heartbeat of the revolution.”

Occupy protesters do not welcome gestures of solidarity from elected officials, said Greg Mack of Moscow, Idaho, who is in Maine visiting friends and decided to join the group in Capitol Park.

“Politicians are trying to jump in and say that ‘If I’m elected, me and my party will correct these things that you guys want corrected.’ And what we’re trying to say is Democrats and Republicans are pretty much the same,” said Mack.

“What we would like to see is this system abolished and to set up a whole new system that actually does support the people and does what the people want it to do,” said Mack. “We believe the existing structure is so deeply entwined with the multinational corporations and they do mostly the will of the multinational corporations and every once in a while they’ll throw us a bone with hopes of appeasing us. We don’t believe this system can be reformed.”

The Occupy Augusta event came days after a union-led rally in the State House and march to offices of Maine’s two U.S. senators with demands that a financial transactions tax and jobs bill be passed. The earlier protest was not connected to the Occupy movement.

Occupy events have been held in cities all over the country.

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