Occupy Thanksgiving: Protesters ‘taken care of’ by Mainers

The OccupyMaine Thanksgiving dinner consisted of half a dozen turkeys and many kinds of mashed potatoes and pie.
Photo by Greta Rybus, gretarybus.com
The OccupyMaine Thanksgiving dinner consisted of half a dozen turkeys and many kinds of mashed potatoes and pie.
Posted Nov. 24, 2011, at 6:52 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 28, 2011, at 5:19 a.m.
People pick up Thanksgiving dinner at the OccupyMaine camp in Portland.
Photo by Greta Rybus, gretarybus.com
People pick up Thanksgiving dinner at the OccupyMaine camp in Portland.
People sit around the fire waiting for their Thanksgiving Day meal to warm up Thursday afternoon in Peirce Park near the Occupy Bangor encampment.  About eight people were at the site all day with several others stopping by to leave soup, pies and other food.
People sit around the fire waiting for their Thanksgiving Day meal to warm up Thursday afternoon in Peirce Park near the Occupy Bangor encampment. About eight people were at the site all day with several others stopping by to leave soup, pies and other food. Buy Photo
A member of OccupyMaine carves a Thanksgiving turkey donated by a local community member.
James Gerstner | Studio IV Photography, Biddeford Me. studioivphotography.com
A member of OccupyMaine carves a Thanksgiving turkey donated by a local community member.

PORTLAND, Maine — OccupyMaine protesters dug peacefully into their donated Thanksgiving turkeys here Thursday while their counterparts with Occupy Wall Street in New York City nearly clashed with police before finishing off their holiday meals.

About 500 protesters were digging into donated turkey and all the trimmings when police told a drummer at lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park to stop playing. Things heated up for about 15 minutes.

About 200 of the protesters surrounded a group of about 30 officers and began shouting.

“Why don’t you stop being cops for Thanksgiving?” yelled one protester.

“Why don’t you arrest the drummers in the Thanksgiving parade?” hollered another.

A van rolled up with more officers, but they hung back. The protesters, part of anti-Wall Street movement that has gripped a nation consumed by economic despair, held an impromptu forum and decided to call off the drumming.

The noisy standoff ended, and the protesters returned to their food.

At Lincoln Park in Portland, the camp cook for OccupyMaine was serving anyone who stopped by some of the half-dozen prepared turkeys and accompanying fixings donated by area residents that day.

“It’s a day of thanks and we are getting a lot of thanks from the people of Portland,” Randy Santa Cruz said as he passed out plates of traditional Thanksgiving food. “I have no doubt that we’ll be taken care of.”

As one of the turkeys, deep-fried and delivered around noon by a supporter, was picked to the bone, Santa Cruz predicted another turkey or two would soon take its place. Within 15 minutes a couple showed up with a full Thanksgiving feast. Another 15 minutes went by before a man dropped off a platter with a turkey he’d raised himself.

Food was available to all who stopped by — members of the encampment, curious passersby and some with no other place to eat.

“We serve all the 99 percent,” Santa Cruz said as he showed off the pies — two apple, four pumpkin — and other desserts he had to offer. “This is the 99 percent restaurant.”

Meanwhile, Thanksgiving Day was subdued at the Occupy Bangor camp at Peirce Park, where about half a dozen activists were digging out from Wednesday’s storm, which dumped nine inches of snow on the encampment, said Occupy Bangor activist Chris DeRoche, who has been living in a tent at the park since the occupation began on Oct. 29.

Though some nights have seen as many as 50 campers at the park, only five people toughed it out during the storm. They had to take turns knocking snow off the tops of their tents to keep them from collapsing. The information booth and canopy set up along the sidewalk on Harlow Street, however, was not so lucky. It was wrecked and will have to be replaced, he said.

Members of the group were still shoveling snow and chipping ice as of early Thursday afternoon.

Though people in the community had dropped by with donations of pies, cranberry sauce, vegetarian stew and stew with meat in it, not to mention a nearly 12-pound turkey, the holiday celebration was postponed until Friday.

That’s because the turkey was frozen and the group had no way to cook it, “We thought about deep frying it, but there were safety concerns,” DeRoche said.

In addition, plans to set up a gas oven did not come together in time to prepare a meal on Thanksgiving Day itself, DeRoche said. Instead, the group decided to take a local couple up on their offer to bake it in their oven at home and bring it to the camp site on Friday.

Also on Friday, the Bangor group plans to participate in the nationwide Black Friday General Strike, a day on which protesters plan to boycott national retail stores and encourage like-minded people to buy only from local companies they support, DeRoche added.

DeRoche and fellow activists Tony Hanson of Bangor and Aaron Danforth of Monmouth and Litchfield said Thursday that they and others are in it for the long haul. They plan be camping out at the library through the entire winter despite recent efforts by the city to get group to go through the steps needed to obtain an event permit.

DeRoche said he believes the activists and city officials can — and will — reach a mutually acceptable solution.

As with other Occupy camps around the country, OccupyMaine relies on donations to survive. The Portland camp contains a library tent with books bought with money from an anonymous donor and a plastic dome used for spiritual purposes given by a Freedom man. In addition to the food, the camp received eight sleeping bags on Wednesday.

The couple who stopped by with a full meal, John Caylor and Cheri Suzuki of Dayton, were as much voyeuristic as they were supportive. After they dropped off their contributions, one of the organizers walked them around the park and showed off the amenities.

“I’ve been monitoring the place on the news,” Caylor said in the library. He said the group could use some help with its message. “I think their goals are kind of mixed or undefined.”

The message problem the group is experiencing might be attributable as much to some of the people it’s associated with as much as the fact that, at its core, the movement isn’t well-organized. Several protesters talked of problems with homeless people who had joined the camp.

“I’m getting sick of the people who just take up space and don’t support the cause,” one woman who lives at the camp full-time and identified herself as Katie said as she ate her meal. She said the camp faced problems with people with substance abuse problems who make too much noise and attract negative attention.

Police have arrested people at the camp for outstanding warrants, assault and disorderly conduct and city officials have cited problems with drug abuse. To proactively combat problems other camps have seen, the group is considering getting a permit that, among other things, would limit the number of tents and people that can stay overnight in the park. The protesters are considering alternatives to covering the several dozen individual tents with tarps, including setting up one large tent over the individual tents.

Though there have been no major problems at the Bangor site — apart from rowdy bar patrons dropping in after 1 a.m. and the occasional drive-by heckler — DeRoche said that group plans to work in de-escalation and similar skills in the event they are needed.

In Bangor, occupy members were grateful to receive a delivery of warm socks, hats and other warm clothing from Valerie Carter, another Bangor resident active in the Occupy Bangor movement.

Others have contributed wool blankets — which Hanson, a former Marine who has helped reorganize the campsite, says are ideal in snowy conditions because they maintain warmth even when wet — as well as firewood and hay, which serves as a cushion and barrier between bedding and the cold, hard ground.

Those and similar items are always welcome at the site, as are people with trucks willing to help haul water jugs, wooden pallets and other heavy items, DeRoche said.

Before the Thanksgiving shouting match with police in New York City, volunteer Haywood Carey, 28, of Chapel Hill, N.C., called the celebration a sign of Americans’ shared values, despite the nation’s mixed opinions about the Occupy movement.

“The things that divide are much less than the things that bind us together,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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