BANGOR, Maine — Occupy Bangor has agreed to pull up the stakes in front of Bangor Public Library, as the library’s board requested last week. But some Occupy members said Saturday that the tents, chairs and campfire might not be disappearing from Bangor’s downtown anytime soon.
Nine members of Occupy Bangor, including three members of the encampment group who regularly spend the night in tents outside the library, agreed that there was nothing to gain by defying the library’s request to move off its property because of insurance liability issues.
“I feel that it’s private property and [the library board] has been very gracious and accommodating,” Occupy member Nancy Minott of Bangor said, drawing approval from everyone else at the meeting.
The library has given them a deadline of 8 a.m. Monday, according to Occupy members.
There is dissent among different groups within Occupy Bangor as to what to do after the encampment complies with that deadline.
Even some of Occupy Bangor’s founders are questioning whether the group should shut down the encampment during the winter months, according to Conrad Cook, a member of Occupy’s encampment subgroup.
“Our original organizers are actively trying to shut the encampment down,” Cook said Saturday. He said leaders in the Occupy group “haven’t grasped that this is a people’s movement, and top-down decisions don’t fly.”
Cook said financial issues and concerns that the encampment might be turning people against the message of the movement were the main complaints of those trying to close the camp.
Cook said the encampment group will do everything in its power to maintain a visible 24-7 presence — including risking arrest if they decide to move back to Peirce Park or other public land.
During an Occupy Bangor general assembly Saturday, the encampment subgroup was given authority to decide where its camp will be located.
Cook said the tents would probably be moved away from the library and back to Peirce Park on Monday, and might remain there pending the results of an Occupy Bangor general assembly Monday evening.
The group also is awaiting a city official’s response to a request for special written permission to stay in the park through the winter.
Occupy Bangor and the city reached an impasse in October over whether the Occupy movement constitutes an event or an assembly and whether the demonstrators needed to apply for an event permit, which they have refused to do because Occupy Bangor is not an event, they argue.
In late-November, Sol Goldman, a University of Maine professor who teaches several law and political science courses, stepped in to offer a possible solution to the roadblock. Goldman is not a member of Occupy Bangor, Cook said.
Goldman said the city’s park ordinance gives Parks and Recreation Director Tracy Willette the authority to give special written permissions, essentially bypassing the “event versus assembly” issue altogether.
Cook said Occupy Bangor has requested written permission to build overnight structures and stay overnight in Peirce Park after closing.
“Occupy Bangor desires to work with the city in maintaining the 24-7 exercise of free speech in Peirce Park every night until spring,” Cook said.
While Occupy Bangor waits to hear the city’s response — possibly during a City Council workshop at 6 p.m. Tuesday — the demonstrators are considering other options.
Saturday night’s Occupy Bangor general assembly gave members a chance to respond to several ideas of how to continue the encampment.
One idea, in its early stages, is to ask the pastor of a local church to allow Occupy members to stay on church property. Cook wouldn’t say which church he had in mind because he hasn’t yet brought the idea to the pastor.
Another option was a move back into Peirce Park, an idea the Occupy encampment group has supported heavily, even without the city’s approval.
Cook said that of the 10 people who regularly stay in the camp overnight, more than half were willing to move back into Peirce Park with or without city approval — even at risk of arrest or fines.
Others at Saturday night’s meeting were less willing to violate the city’s wishes and regulations.
“The enemy is not the city,” said Valerie Carter, a member of Occupy Bangor’s logistics team. “The enemy is social inequality in this country.”
Carter argued that arrests and dissent might only serve as a distraction from the Occupy movement’s larger message.
Another option, which Cook described as “kind of extreme but, as far as I know, legal,” was called the “daytime sleeping option.”
In this situation, the Occupy encampment would be open during the day, with members sleeping in insulated, hollowed-out snowbanks, emerging after the park is closed to walk the sidewalks with signs.
Cook said he didn’t think there was anything in city code to regulate sleeping in a park, so as long as the encampment group leaves the park by closing time, the group might not be violating any laws.
Still another option brought forward at Saturday’s meeting was to occupy a foreclosed home in the area. The group would camp in front of or inside one of these homes to be sure it was maintained while under bank control.
Most of the members in attendance Saturday supported a move back into Peirce park, especially if the written permission request is approved, but no decisions will be made until Monday’s larger Occupy Bangor general assembly meeting.