Occupy protesters packing up in Augusta, staying put in Portland

Posted Dec. 08, 2011, at 6:02 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Two groups of Occupy demonstrators in Maine were dealt setbacks this week, following a trend of Occupy encampments disbanding in other cities around the country, but demonstrators vowed Thursday to continue to protest what they see as economic inequality and corporate greed in the U.S.

Wall Street demonstrators in Augusta began taking down tents Thursday after a federal judge denied their request to stay in Capitol Park, while defiant demonstrators in Portland vowed to keep their encampment intact after the City Council voted 8-1 to deny the group’s request to stay in Lincoln Park.

“I’m going to certainly stay in my tent in the park,” said Heather Curtis, one of the demonstrators. “My favorite option would be to remain there and continue to learn and grow and spread the message.”

More than three dozen tents remained at the OccupyMaine site in Portland. John Branson, the group’s attorney, planned to discuss options with members after meeting Thursday with city officials.

Acting Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said his department was “in a holding pattern,” awaiting directions from the city manager on how to proceed. City officials will have further discussions with the group and most people believe the case ultimately will play out in court, Sauschuck said.

OccupyMaine put a notice on its Facebook page seeking photographers, bloggers, people with video cameras and other volunteers to document police behavior. The notice asked for volunteers to serve as barricades and stand between police and the encampment should police try to remove the campers.

John Schreiber, 27, said he’s waiting to see how the disagreement plays out in court and whether something can be negotiated with city officials allowing them to stay. But he didn’t rule out the possibility that some would resist if police tried to forcibly remove them.

“If anybody tries to deny us our constitutional rights, then civil disobedience is an option,” he said.

Mayor Michael Brennan said he offered to convene a mayor’s task force to address some of the issues raised by OccupyMaine, including economic disparity, issues related to homelessness, and whether the city needs a 24-hour free speech zone. The group’s other options include a lawsuit.

In Augusta, Occupy activists were taking down what remained of their encampment after the judge’s decision Wednesday to deny their request to stay in the state-owned park across from the State House.

Public Safety Department officials asked Occupy leaders to begin disbanding the camp Thursday and complete the job by noon Friday. If protesters don’t meet the deadline, state employees will come in and remove what remains by dusk Friday, department spokesman Stephen McCausland said.

Members intend to meet the deadline, even though he said U.S. District Judge Nancy Torresen’s decision “puts an asterisk next to our First Amendment rights,” said Lew Kingsbury of Pittston, an Occupy leader with the Augusta group.

Nine activists who were arrested after a demonstration at the governor’s mansion Nov. 27 will request trials to contest their criminal trespass and criminal mischief charges, giving them a public forum to highlight the movement’s message, said Lynne Williams, an attorney representing the Occupy Augusta group.

Occupy encampments in other U.S. cities have been shut down in recent weeks as city officials evict protesters from public property.

In Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino said Occupy Boston protesters must disband their camp in the city’s financial district by midnight Thursday or face eviction. The mayor’s order came one day after a judge refused to issue a court order that would have barred city officials from removing the protesters.

In Portland, city police and critics have raised concerns about sanitation and public safety at what amounts to an unregulated campground. Police officers responded to 140 calls at the park from Oct. 1 through the beginning of this week, compared with only 70 calls for all of 2010.

Associated Press writer Glenn Adams in Augusta, Maine, contributed to this report.

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