If Occupy Maine had not camped out, we would not be talking about the group and its searing critique of Wall Street and Washington.
The constant and growing presence in Portland’s Lincoln Park served as a stark reminder of how much the poor, near poor and struggling middle class have in common in the fourth year of an economic downturn that shows no signs of letting up. Facts of urban life, like homelessness, could be conveniently forgotten, outside public view.
But the encampment appears to be coming to an end and the people who make up Occupy Maine should think about what comes next after the tents are taken down.
On Sunday, the group decided to pursue in court the argument that did not prevail before the City Council last week – that what it is doing in Lincoln Park is constitutionally protected free speech and assembly. If other recent cases are a guide, the argument will only get them so far: Even free speech can be limited, and the city ordinance banning overnight camping will likely be found to be a reasonable limit.
The protesters are looking at what will come next, and the group’s lawyer said Sunday that “eviction could be the greatest thing to happen to our movement,” noting the media attention that a mass arrest would attract.
He may be right, but it’s not the only way for the group to move forward. Occupy Maine members should consider whether they can accomplish more by working on the list of grievances they presented to the City Council last week.
The council only rejected one of their requests, the creation of a 24-hour free speech and assembly space. Other demands, like use of a City Hall room for indoor meetings and a more aggressive effort to house the homeless, are things that the group could start working on right away with the city as a partner.
The Occupy Maine protesters have a chance to show this whole thing was not just about camping. If they exhaust their legal rights in court and face eviction, they could choose to see how serious the city really is about addressing their concerns.
Camping out got everyone’s attention, but moving inside to push the government to do more to protect people could prove to be much more valuable.