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Occupy Bangor members say gathering is First Amendment free speech assembly, not event

Posted Nov. 20, 2011, at 7 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 22, 2011, at 1:47 p.m.

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Occupy Bangor member Lawrence Reichard (right) addresses the media during a press conference at Peirce Park on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 20, 2011. Behind him is a canopy structure that was put up over the weekend on the site of the larger canopies that were removed at the request of the city of Bangor.
Occupy Bangor member Lawrence Reichard (right) addresses the media during a press conference at Peirce Park on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 20, 2011. Behind him is a canopy structure that was put up over the weekend on the site of the larger canopies that were removed at the request of the city of Bangor. Buy Photo
Occupy Bangor member Lawrence Reichard (right) addresses the media during a press conference at Peirce Park on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 20, 2011. Holding up the group's 99% flag behind Reichard are (from left) Rebecca Hickman, Jeffrey F. Joseph and Matt Murray.
Occupy Bangor member Lawrence Reichard (right) addresses the media during a press conference at Peirce Park on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 20, 2011. Holding up the group's 99% flag behind Reichard are (from left) Rebecca Hickman, Jeffrey F. Joseph and Matt Murray. Buy Photo

BANGOR, Maine — Members of Occupy Bangor, who have been encamped at Peirce Park for more than three weeks, say they are not holding an event and therefore don’t need a city permit to continue the occupation.

“We are not an event,” Occupy Bangor member Lawrence Reichard said Sunday afternoon. “We are a First Amendment free speech assembly.”

Occupy Bangor members also are planning to file a restraining order against the city Tuesday or Wednesday to prevent further municipal action, he said.

City officials requested last week that Occupy Bangor members get an event permit by Friday, which the group failed to do, and also by 10 p.m. Sunday to remove several makeshift structures at the site, located next to the Bangor Public Library.

Two of the large canopies were torn down by members over the weekend, but another one was erected in protest of the city’s request.

The new canopy structure, made from blue tarps and topped with an American flag, is “a symbol of our strong belief in the free speech rights of the citizens of Bangor,” Reichard said. “The city of Bangor may remove that tent, but we will not.

“We also refuse to sanction this assault on free speech by seeking an event permit,” he said, calling the city’s request that the group get a permit a violation of First Amendment rights.

“The First Amendment dies in Bangor, and it dies at the hand of city government.”

Protesters can continue to occupy the park during its regular hours, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., if they have an event permit, Bangor Parks and Recreation director Tracy Willette said last week.

City leaders also asked Occupy Bangor members to disassemble and remove smaller tents and other structures in Peirce Park each night when the park closes and reassemble them the next day.

Occupy Bangor members have erected tents for sleeping overnight at the library, which is not city property, but some of those tents were clearly located in the park on Sunday.

OccupyMaine gatherings in Portland and Augusta have both been held without municipal interference, but “sadly, Bangor’s city government has chosen to tarnish and besmirch this,” Reichard said.

OccupyMaine members have been camped out at Lincoln Park, which is located right across the street from the Cumberland County court house, and police and fire stations, member Katherine Hulit, of Falmouth, said Sunday.

“We’ve gotten several permits for the events we’ve held in Monument Square but at Lincoln Park — the city is viewing that as an act of our freedom of speech,” she said. “They are respecting our First Amendment rights.”

Lincoln Park, she said, has a long history of free speech gatherings.

Portland officials have contracted OccupyMaine members about a number of safety concerns, Hulit said.

“They haven’t officially asked us to leave, but they have contacted our lawyer, John Branson, about some concerns — fire and health code issues and general safety issues,” she said.

Three OccupyMaine protesters were charged Friday in Portland in two separate incidents in Lincoln Park, one involving an assault with a hammer, Portland police Lt. Gary Rogers said Friday.

The three men were asked not to return to the protest site, Hulit said, and a statement was posted on OccupyMaine’s Facebook page that states their actions are sharply in contrast to “our commitment to nonviolent social and economic change.”

OccupyMaine in Portland was also victim to a homemade chemical bomb, thrown during the first week of the encampment at Lincoln Park in October.

No arrests have occurred in Bangor.

Occupy Bangor members and supporters from Power in Community Alliances, or PICA, gathered Saturday to form a human pie chart to demonstrate the division of the country’s wealth.

Around 40 people were crammed into a small human pie chart area that represented the bottom 80 percent of “America’s financial wealth pie” and one person represented the nation’s wealthy during the noontime demonstration.

“One person was in the 1 percent [area] and he controlled the media. He had the mic and he couldn’t hear us,” said Occupy Bangor member Nancy Minott of Bangor.

The presentation was used to illustrate the scale of current economic inequality in the United States, members said.

“The bottom 80 percent have a 7 percent slice of the pie,” fellow Occupy Bangor member Valerie Carter, also of Bangor, added.

That 80 percent have watched as their incomes have decreased since the 1980s while the nation’s wealthy have become richer, she said.

Members of PICA also erected a wooden structure in front of Peirce Park during the demonstration to show the “disparity between the country’s wealthy and the rest of the population,” Katherine Kates-Chinoy said in a statement.

After the gathering broke up, PICA member Dennis Chinoy explained how the country’s rich have gotten richer since 1980 thanks to changes in income taxes and the breaking up of organized labor unions.

“Those are probably the two major factors,” he said.

Occupy Bangor is following in the footsteps of similar Occupy gatherings organized by the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Together movements, some of which have resulted in violence and arrests.

To make changes, “the first thing you have to do is get the story out,” Dennis Chinoy said, adding that is what the Occupy gatherings are designed to do. “You can’t put the genie back in the bottle.”

City Manager Catherine Conlow said Friday afternoon that the city’s requests are not about whether the group can assemble, “It’s about structures in the park” and other city code violations.

“If we come in Monday and they are still there, we’ll assemble and go from there,” she said.

Bangor police Lt. Tom Reagan said Sunday afternoon that he was not aware of any plans for police to go to the park Sunday night.

The Occupy Bangor group set up camp at Peirce Park on Oct. 27, and Reichard said they have no plans to move.

“For 22 days city government has insisted that Occupy Bangor’s free speech assembly is an event like any other, and for 22 days city government has been wrong,” Reichard said.

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