PRESQUE ISLE — Occupy Aroostook, like counterpart groups across the nation — and the world — is spreading awareness of the disparity between economic classes and the need for economic justice for all.
The local organization holds weekly meetings, with marches planned to help spread the message that citizens want change, including good jobs, fair taxes and an end to big-money influence in politics. The first march, held Nov. 4, was deemed a success, with 19 participants marching in Presque Isle.
“Nineteen enthusiastic supporters marched through the snowstorm down Main Street in Presque Isle carrying signs and chanting slogans to promote economic justice,” said event organizer Alice Bolstridge of Presque Isle.
Bolstridge said, “Economic justice for US 99 percent means ending corporate greed, ending too-big-to-fail financial institutions, ending big-money influence in politics and having fair-share taxes. It also means creating good jobs, prosperous small businesses, universal health care and protecting pensions.”
She said the movement also wants to create a strong social safety net and strong educational opportunities.
“We’d also like to see repairs and improvements to infrastructure,” said Bolstridge. “It also promotes peace.”
The group also met on Main Street near the rec center in Presque Isle on Election Day to protest big-money power in politics. On Saturday, Nov. 12, members gathered at the Food Court at the Aroostook Centre Mall to march “for the economic justice for US 99 percent,” according to Bolstridge.
“Our third event, Nov. 12, was a march at the north end of town advocating again for economic justice on a variety of issues,” said Bolstridge.
Members include residents from Presque Isle, Blaine, Mapleton and Wade, with participants ranging in age from high school students to senior citizens.
Bolstridge said the group was formed by local citizens “looking for a way to show support for Occupy Wall Street, which is spreading worldwide.”
“Speaking for myself, I wanted to raise public awareness, inspire curiosity and encourage action about issues of economic justice,” said Bolstridge.
She added that the organization is nonpartisan.
“We have no requirements about party affiliation to join us. We intentionally avoid partisan accusations. We believe both major parties are responsible for injustices that led to and continue to fuel the current economic suffering and both parties need to work together to fix them,” she said.
“Occupy Aroostook is an evolving loose-knit organization of citizens seeking economic justice for the 99 percent who have seen that justice gradually eroded over many years. We meet in a general assembly following each event to plan for the next event and to discuss issues we think most pertinent to Aroostook County, such as joblessness and unaffordable health care, as well as the nation as a whole,” explained Bolstridge.
Joanne Young, a participant from Blaine, said it was a good way to express a need for change.
“Everyone is welcome. We’re trying to gather each week — usually Saturday. If you’re angry at government — everyone has an issue — there’s no one to speak for us, so we have to speak for ourselves,” said Young.
Troy Haines, a member from Mapleton, said, “Corporate personhood has resulted in an elected body which answers to its sponsors, not its constituents, giving corporations more rights than the average American, making it so that corporations have the ability to control the legislative direction of the country and allowing corporations to avoid paying as much taxes as a low-income single mother.”
“This is a problem. Of the people, by the people, for the people rings true; of the Koch brothers, by Exxon/Mobil, for General Electric doesn’t have quite the same ring to it,” said Haines.
In light of recent events in New York, where protesters were evicted from the park and later received a judge’s approval to return, Occupy Aroostook members believe it’s even more important to continue raising awareness of the issues that affect such a large portion of the U.S. population.
“In view of recent police raids on encampments in New York, Oakland, Calif., and Portland, Ore., I encourage participants to join us on Saturday with messages about constitutional rights of free speech and peaceable assembly,” said Bolstridge.
Shelly Mountain of Mapleton said members of Occupy Aroostook will next gather at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19, beginning at North Street and marching south on Main Street.
“Then we will be having a general assembly — what most people call a planning/strategy meeting, what we are calling an assembly in solidarity … in the Owl’s Nest at UMPI immediately after,” said Mountain.
Mountain indicated a media team has been established, which includes Zach Lowry, a Presque Isle High School student who has a direct connection to events unfolding in New York with the Occupy Wall Street movement.
“The last I knew, Zach’s brother was at Occupy Wall Street,” said Mountain.
Bolstridge said the local group will continue to meet as long as there’s an interest.
“We plan to continue as long as we have willing participants and/or as long as there is a need to resolve the problems of injustice,” said Bolstridge. “As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, ‘We must speak, with all the humility of our limited vision — but we must speak.’”