TOPSHAM – Our daughter Anne, visiting for the weekend, suggested a father-daughter activity. Because such occasions are rare for me, and also because I really wanted a firsthand experience of the Occupy movement, I gladly went with her last Saturday.

Because of the impending cold and snow predicted for the Northeast, Anne suggested we bring 40 pairs of hand warmers for the occupiers. Driving to Portland, we shared what we knew about the Maine expressions of this now world-wide movement. I have read widely, and listened to some people who echo the negative rant of radio talk shows.

The people living in encampments in so many cities and towns of America are defined, demonized and disregarded by people they have never met them.

There is a distinct thread of strong emotions woven in the minds of some of our fellow citizens. They range from disgust and disapproval to barely disguised fear. Some of the labels I’ve heard: “tax evaders, hippies, freeloaders, communists, drug addicts, socialists, dirty scumbags, terrorists, anti-capitalists, criminals”…and more. No component of society is perfect. But you get the point.

So, Anne and I arrived at the Portland encampment in Lincoln Park.

As we got to the entrance, we spoke with a young man who was articulate and friendly, not weird in any way.

Then we wandered around seeing the tents and a few people busy at tasks. The first thing I noted was how clean and orderly the place was. Obviously that doesn’t occur without organization and co-operation. No one was shouting or obtrusive.

We headed for what appeared to be the kitchen area. There we met a middle-aged woman who made us feel welcome, offering us coffee or a sandwich (which we declined). She was open, deeply committed, and articulate about the need for economic justice to become real for all of us, not just the corporate executives whose wealth borders on the obscene (my word not hers).

I heard nothing about trying to destroy capitalism or profits or competition, but she did voice a firm resolve to call our political leaders to represent all of us fairly, not swayed by entities that pay big money to assist re-elections and expect favors in return. She also was opposed to American businesses that export jobs overseas, taking jobs from those who had them.

Palmer (that’s our guide’s first name) showed us a geodesic dome donated by a man who explained how Buckminster Fuller designed a shelter that is natural (think igloos), sustainable and efficient. Domes were used also to cover and protect radar installations when the DEW (distant early warning) was installed during the Cold War period. They also are found in children’s playgrounds.

This donation is an illustration of people, not directly part of Occupy Maine (or Wall Street, Washington, Boston, Madrid or London), supporting this movement. And there was a steady stream of people bringing food, clothing and blankets.

Genuine gratitude was expressed, and I got the feeling that the Occupy movement is not a gathering of undisciplined youth who think they are doing something constructive, but only making a nuisance of themselves.

My hope is that all of us will take a moment to reflect on how things often change because some committed people stand up and say: No, we will no longer submit to a system that does not respect, welcome and include the 99 percent who are not wealthy and cannot afford food, shelter, health care, or enjoy freedom to speak and worship without fear of reprisal or being ridiculed.

Recall why our history highlights Lexington and Concord, the birth of the labor movement, the protests of the Vietnam War, the march in Selma, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights act of 1965, the ongoing struggle to affirm equal respect and opportunity for women.

All these happened because people rose up with fervor and commitment to focus attention on something wrong that needed to be changed.

Not everybody cheered such movements. Some of us were disturbed by what challenged our established certainties. Democracy gets messy when needed change is on the horizon, but the arc of liberty and justice shows the path to a vibrant future.

The Occupy movement is a current manifestation of this. If you do not agree, I hope you will go and meet some of these people, and let direct experience shape your discernment and opinion.

– Special to the Press Herald