The recent act of nonviolent civil disobedience by nine middle-aged and older Occupy Augusta supporters — arrested for refusing to leave the governor's mansion grounds — opens a new phase in Maine's Occupy movement. In the tradition of Thoreau, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, their protest against the state's threat to dismantle the Augusta encampment also represents another step in Occupy Augusta's progress from anarchistic statement to political action.
IN THE SHADOW OF THE STATE HOUSE The Occupy revolution is beginning to engage with lawmakers.
As Occupy Wall Street camps around the country are assaulted by cold weather, routed by police, and marred by the arrests of hangers-on, Occupy Augusta's actions may show the movement a political path to spring. The movement has always clearly articulated the problem: the one percent against the 99 percent. The Augusta occupiers also have worked — albeit haltingly — toward the solution.
Adbusters, the Canadian magazine that called for the original Zuccotti Park occupation in New York, is now urging a diversity of protests. "With or without winter encampments," the editors envision street-theater disruptions and flashmobs, but also legislative work — as protesters regroup "for a full-spectrum counterattack when the crocuses bloom next spring." Capitol Park's occupiers and supporters have been developing that diversity.
Columnist and University of California at Berkeley professor Robert Reich told his local Occupy contingent (see video) that outrage is always the first stage of protest; action naturally comes next. It's only natural that, camped literally in the shadow of the Capitol dome and visible from the Blaine House, Augusta's occupiers saw state government providing opportunities for action.
In an early action, on November 5 protesters invaded the grounds of millionaire corporate lobbyist Severin Beliveau's white Colonial mansion in nearby Hallowell. One man pounded on the front door. When no one answered, the 15 militants chanted, "We are the 99 percent!" If these sans-culottes had waved pitchforks, it would have been a scene from the French Revolution.
Beliveau's law firm has represented just about every unsavory industry one can imagine. He's also Maine's "Mr. Democrat," host of Bill Clinton, and political fundraiser extraordinaire. "The man behind the curtain," declared longtime activist Jim Freeman, of Verona Island, a gray-mustached 62, as he gave an impromptu lecture in Beliveau's driveway on how Big Money corrupts state politics.
On November 18 Occupy Augustans joined labor-union members and Maine People's Alliance and MoveOn.org activists in a rally under a decrepit bridge on Augusta's Water Street. The 99 people present (true!) demanded Congress repair the country's crumbling infrastructure, thereby putting people to work, and finance the effort by increasing taxes on the rich.
At the rally, Augusta Democratic Representative Maeghan Maloney, a conservatively dressed lawyer who had sounded conservative during the 2010 election campaign, said she had visited the park's occupiers and had been "impressed by their commitment." She couldn't "see any reason why we would ask them to leave." She invited them to "press specific legislation."
They may. They have a work group attending legislative committee meetings. The group has been contemplating how to abolish "corporate personhood." Betraying some rural-hippie roots, the occupiers want to legislatively promote "food sovereignty," according to an energetic Demi Colby, 23, of Gardiner. Occupiers travelled to Blue Hill to rally with 150 other supporters of farmer Dan Brown, who has been sued by the state for selling raw milk without a license.