BRUNSWICK, Maine — A group of approximately 60 people demonstrated solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement by rallying in downtown Brunswick on Saturday morning.
Unlike in Portland, Boston, New York and other cities nationwide where Occupy Wall Street sympathizers have set up encampments indefinitely, signs and chants rather than tents marked the first organized “Occupy Brunswick” demonstration. Organizers plan to hold a similar event this Saturday.
Protesters walked two blocks from the Brunswick Mall to the Bank of America branch on Maine Street. Under the watchful eye of a private security guard hired by the bank and two Brunswick police officers, they stood on the sidewalk outside the bank, holding signs and occasionally voicing their dissatisfaction with the banking industry and government.
Pointing out that the bank’s entrance is private property, the security guard stopped one man from addressing the group from the bank’s front steps. Police asked those gathered to arrange themselves in such a way as to allow pedestrians to pass.
The broad-based movement has become most recognized by the slogan, “We are the 99 percent,” referring to people outside of the country’s wealthiest 1 percent. Since its inception in New York seven weeks ago, the movement’s skeptics have criticized its lack of concrete or unifying demands, but protester Macy Lambson said Saturday that the movement’s breadth is what drew her.
“I was not politically involved before this movement,” Lambson said Saturday in front of the Brunswick Bank of America, where protesters conducted part of their demonstration. “I never saw any other movement good enough for me — they were all about one issue and this is so broad and about so many things.”
Lambson, 20, said she has been at Occupy Portland’s Lincoln Park encampment with her 21-year-old fiance, Shane Blodgett, for about a month. On Saturday, she and Blodgett, who has been an informal spokesman for the Portland movement, stopped by the Brunswick demonstration before heading back to the couple’s hometown of Augusta, where protesters were scheduled to march on the State House.
Selma Sternlieb, a representative of Greater Brunswick PeaceWorks and organizer of Saturday’s protest, said the event allowed “Brunswick to have a voice as well.”
“We thought we should have a presence and this is an opportunity to voice our feelings,” Sternleib said.
A flier about Saturday’s protest, sponsored by nine local peace activism groups, criticizes corporate influence on government and the consolidation of wealth. It also lambastes government bailout funds for big banks at a time when “millions have lost their homes.”
Sternleib said Occupy groups worldwide share frustration with banks, and that frustration fueled the decision to march and protest in front of the Brunswick Bank of America branch Saturday.
“It’s taken off all over the world,” Sternleib said. “There are thousands of protests because everyone realizes these banks brought collapse to people all over the world.”
Rosalie Paul of Peace Action Maine addressed the group Saturday on the Brunswick Mall and said it was good for local activists to have some solidarity with the movements in other cities.
Protester Mary Edgerton, who took on the task of handing out the group’s fliers in front of Bank of America, said that most passers-by were receptive to the message.
“Only three people have refused to take a flier,” Edgerton said Saturday morning.
One man staged a brief counter-protest, calling the group “a bunch of whiners” after conducting a transaction at the Bank of America branch. The Lisbon Falls man declined to give his name, but said he decided to do his banking Saturday in conjunction with the protest.
After Saturday’s demonstration in Brunswick, Blodgett invited Brunswick demonstrators to join in his trip to Augusta and offered what he called a “gentle criticism” to the group.
“An occupation can’t be done unless there is a constant presence,” Blodgett said. “Not that there’s anything wrong with protesting.”
Blodgett invited 23-year-old Eric Chandel aside after Saturday’s protest to speak with him about starting a local Occupy encampment.
“He said if you stay out alone, then the police will harass you — even if it’s a small group,” Chandel said. “You need at least a dozen to make it work.”
Chandel, a Topsham resident, said he’s unable to leave the area to set up camp alongside protesters in Augusta or Portland, but that he would be willing to endure the cold for the cause.
“[Brunswick] is a pretty big town for Maine, so I think that it’s worth it to have an Occupy here,” said Chandel, noting that Saturday’s protest was the first Occupy event that he has participated in and that he will be back on the Brunswick Mall on Saturday.
Brunswick resident and longtime peace advocate Christine DeTroy said she would camp out, too, if it weren’t for other responsibilities.
“I have a very real job right now, which is taking care of my family and trying not to lose my home,” DeTroy said. “But I would help by bringing what I could — blankets, water, food.”
DeTroy said she typically works seven days a week and is frustrated with the promises of the “American Dream.”
“There’s a lot of talk about … if you work hard enough then you can have wealth and you can be a millionaire,” DeTroy said. “If that were the case, then migrant farmers would be millionaires and I would be a millionaire myself. It’s not about that.”
Although she can’t camp out, DeTroy said she does other things to support the Occupy movement.
“I shop locally even though I’m short on money,” DeTroy said. “I still support my farmers market when I can and I don’t do malls and I don’t do Walmart.”
Morgan Rhodewalt was arrested last week in a civil disobedience demonstration in New York City.
“It feels like being alive for the first time,” Rhodewalt said Saturday on the Brunswick Mall. Rhodewalt, who was visiting friends in Maine over the weekend, said he has been traveling to New York from Massachusetts around his work schedule to take part in that Occupy movement for the past five weeks.
Rhodewalt said his arrest was in connection with protests of a New York Police Department search policy — known as “stop and frisk” — that critics, including Princeton professor and activist Cornel West, say unfairly targets black and Latino populations. Civil disobedience demonstrations, Rhodewalt said, are where the movement needs to look next.
“There’s nothing like it,” Rhodewalt said. “To be taking part with brothers and sisters demanding change and knowing that we’re right is the most enlivening experience.”
Blodgett said the same of his participation in the Occupy Maine movement.
“I definitely do feel empowered after the helplessness that I’ve been living with,” Blodgett said. “I’m taking an active part in [the Occupy movement] and that makes me feel like a whole human being — it’s very fulfilling.”
Rhodewalt said he is happy to see protests taking place in Brunswick, but that the New York movement grew, in part, from a frustration with one-day protests.
“They’re gone the next day and the occupation pushes that just a bit further,” Rhodewalt said. “That needs to push people even further to acts of nonviolent civil disobedience to raise awareness and change unjust laws.”
Rhodewalt compared the experience to exercise.
“Once we have a good workout of knowing how to do these acts, then we can as a nation rise up and change the larger landscape,” Rhodewalt said.
Going forward, Rhodewalt said the movement needs to continue building momentum toward civil disobedience, addressing issues of racism and sexism. Beyond that, Rhodewalt said he’s not sure where the movement might lead.
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