PORTLAND, Maine — As the sun set on Portland on Monday night, only about 15 tents remained in Lincoln Park as OccupyMaine demonstrators made progress toward meeting city evacuation deadlines and discussed the future of their movement.
Many occupiers said the protest of corporate influence on government and growing income gaps between the wealthy and poor will continue through regular events, meetings and charity work.
OccupyMaine is the longest standing remaining satellite of the initial Occupy Wall Street, springing up in Monument Square on Oct. 1 and moving a few days later to its encampment site nearby in Lincoln Park. At its peak, OccupyMaine reportedly consisted of nearly 70 tents at the park.
After the City Council denied the group’s request to be allowed to stay there, the demonstrators filed a lawsuit in Cumberland County Superior Court, arguing that forcing the protesters to move infringes on their constitutional rights of free speech and assembly.
But Superior Court Justice Thomas Warren sided with the city — which claimed the tent community is unsafe and unsanitary and that the occupation limits use of the city-owned park by other members of the public.
The city then gave the occupiers until 8 a.m. Monday to take down their tents and leave the park, later reportedly extending the evacuation deadline until Friday.
On Monday, after many recognizable tents and structures already had been disassembled and removed from the site, including a large kitchen tent and a plastic dome used as a meeting place, demonstrators told the Bangor Daily News they plan to continue promoting their message after the encampment is taken down.
Evan McVeigh, 26, who has camped at the site since its beginnings, said he plans to move to a Cape Elizabeth farm with a friend and push for societal change by volunteering at soup kitchens and other community organizations. He said he and most others at the camp would rather regroup and promote their agenda in other ways rather than face arrest for refusing to leave the park.
Some protesters previously had declared that they would not leave even if their lawsuit was denied by the court, creating potential for conflicts with police, but on Monday, those who spoke with the BDN said they plan to leave Lincoln Park. At other Occupy camps in the country, such as in California and New York, police forcefully removed the demonstrators.
“This encampment and its ideas mean a lot to me, but I’m not sure this is the place to make a stand,” McVeigh said. “I think people will move out at their own pace. There may be some who want to stay and take a stand. … To say that the encampment is not assembly, redress of grievances and free speech [as the city argued in court] is just ridiculous to me.”
Palmer Ryan was one of four occupiers individually named in the group’s lawsuit against the city.
“We’ve had such a peaceful relationship with the city,” she said. “I don’t want to be the one to put us on the map for being nasty like in other cities.”
Jake Lowry, who headed OccupyMaine’s media team in early October and went on to spend five weeks in the occupation in Washington, D.C.’s McPherson Square before returning to southern Maine in December, said the local group likely will continue holding its regular general assembly meetings to discuss political action and issues of concern to its members.
OccupyMaine members already have moved much of the books from the encampment library to the Meg Perry Center on Congress Street, where they use office space and plan to continue holding events.
“It’ll continue on,” Lowry said Monday. “When these evictions happen, it forces people underground and to rethink strategy. … I’ve heard the movement compared to water. It takes on any form it needs to in order to accomplish its goals.”