BANGOR, Maine — Members of Occupy Bangor turned their collars up against the rain about 10 p.m. Saturday and prepared to hunker down for the night in about a dozen tents pitched on the grounds of the Bangor Public Library.
Officers in Bangor police cruisers drove by but did not stop since protesters did not stray off library property and into the adjacent Peirce Memorial Park. City ordinances forbid people to be in Bangor parks between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. There is no similar prohibition on people being outside the library when it is closed.
The library closed at 5 p.m. Saturday and will not open again until 9 a.m. Monday.
By 10 p.m. the crowd had thinned from a high of about 150 for an afternoon parade through downtown Bangor to about 25 people, who took turns warming up around a portable fire pit set up on the grass.
The event was organized by Occupy Bangor and is part of a national grass-roots movement designed to call attention to the continuing economic problems faced by 99 percent of the population who are poor and middle class, according to organizers.
“As a student of economics, I feel there is an imbalance of wealth that is negatively effecting our economy and the world that I wanted to stand up and speak out against that,” said Ethan, an 18-year-old first-year student at the University of Maine from Mariaville, who declined to give his last name.
He said that he was an experienced winter camper and was not concerned about the wet, heavy snow predicted for much of the state.
In Capitol Park near the State House in Augusta, a contingent of campers was astir Sunday morning making breakfast and tying down a tarp that came loose in the wind. But other than that, the group seemed undaunted by the wet, heavy snow and temperatures just above freezing.
One of the Occupy Augusta members, Sarah Therrien of Pittsfield, said the roughly 4 inches of snow that fell was not a big deal, in fact some of the campers were excited to see it because now they know they can get through it.
In Portland, police say the Occupy encampment in Lincoln Park was also there Sunday morning.
Members of the Occupy movement have said that 99 percent refers to all those who are not among the wealthiest 1 percent. People and corporations whose leaders are in that 1 percent have too much influence on the political process. Lawrence Reichard, a participant in Occupy Bangor, said Saturday night.
He also said the Occupy Bangor protest would last more than a weekend.
“We are going nowhere,” he said Saturday night. We are going to stay right here. So, feel free to come back.”
Reichard asked that those who were going home for the night return Sunday with snow shovels so they could shovel snow off the library steps and the walkway as a thank you to Director Barbara McDade.
Earlier in the day, Gretchen Gordon and her two young sons joined about 150 others in the park next to the Bangor library at a rally to draw attention to the widening gap between the rich and poor in America.
“I’ve never been to a demonstration in my life,” Gordon, 48, of Pembroke said just before a noon rally began. She and her sons, Ian Gordon, 10, and Giles Gordon, 7, each carried a homemade sign.
“We had quite a discussion about the political process in the car on the way here,” she said.
Gordon said just before the rally in Bangor that she is part of that 99 percent.
“I think a lot of people see these kinds of events on TV and think the people who show up aren’t contributing,” she said. “I’m someone who’s paying a mortgage, paying my taxes, working full time and still I feel like I can barely make it each month.”
Gordon did not say where she was employed, but said she is an hourly worker and had not had a pay increase since 2000.
Her sign read: “99% are stuck on hamster wheels, while 1% gold-plated their wheels of fortune on our tax money.”
Hancock resident Irene Bergman carried a laminated sign that read, “I’m 65. My house has been for sale for two years. I owe more than it’s worth.”
Bergman said she came to the rally to show the movement is supported by “regular people.” She said that despite her age, she can’t afford to retire and must continue to work.
“This is not what I was taught to believe life was supposed to be like,” she said. “This is not the American Dream, this is the American nightmare.”
Union representatives, representatives of the Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine, local clergy, anti-war activists and Maine residents facing an uncertain economic future gathered for a noon rally and speeches. The Rev. Becky Gunn, the minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Bangor, said the issues raised at the rally were moral as well as political.
“It’s not wrong to tax the rich more,” she said during the rally. “We are just asking them to share.”
About 90 minutes later, the group paraded down the sidewalk to the Margaret Chase Federal Building, then, headed to a downtown bank on Exchange Street, before returning to the park. Two Bangor police officers in separate cruisers kept their eyes on the rally and parade from a distance.
The group’s plans to camp overnight in the park caused city officials and the Bangor police to issue press releases Thursday and Friday. Camping is not allowed in city parks, according to City Manager Catherine Conlow, and they are not to be occupied from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Barbara McDade, director of the library, said that people often use the Wi-Fi hot spot outside the building after hours. That is not prohibited but camping is, McDade said Friday.
Sunny Hughes, a member of the Occupy Bangor media team, said after the rally that the organization would “have a presence in the park all night.”
She said people would rotate in and out overnight so they could get inside and warm up before returning. As the rally began, just one tent was set up outside the library.
What the Bangor police would take if people remain in the park or in front of the library after 10 p.m. was uncertain Saturday afternoon.
Police “will take action if there are violations of the law,” Bangor police Sgt. Paul Edwards said Friday. “This goes for violations committed by those who might attempt to threaten, intimidate or harass those who are assembled in support of this cause.”
Several of the people who attended the rally have been arrested at other protests in acts of civil disobedience.
Earlier this year, charges against several protesters arrested at a Land Use Regulation Commission meeting about Plum Creek’s plans for development in the Moosehead Lake area were dismissed by the Penobscot County District Attorney’s Office just before they were to go on trial.
In Portland, the Occupy Maine group was also holding a downtown rally Saturday featuring speakers, music and what was billed as a “corporate zombie” march.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.