PORTLAND – The sagging tents, makeshift buildings and brightly colored signs that came to embody the spirit of a movement targeting economic injustice and political corruption are about to disappear from downtown Portland.
The city served members of the Occupy Maine movement with an eviction notice Thursday, ordering them to remove all structures and personal belongings from Lincoln Park by no later than 8 a.m. Monday.
In the notice, which was hand delivered by city police to protesters on Thursday afternoon, City Manager Mark H. Rees said that anyone found camping in the park between 10 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. after Monday morning could be arrested.
The city also arranged for a trash Dumpster to be placed in the park to help expedite the cleanup.
But on Thursday night, nearly all the encampment’s tents and other structures — including a library, kitchen and spiritual center — remained in place.
The presence of the tents, which several people still sleep in overnight, and a reluctance by the city to give the protesters additional time to remove the structures sets up a potential conflict on Monday.
Spokespersons for both sides said they hope protesters will leave Lincoln Park peacefully.
“Our goal and our hope is that we can have a voluntary and amicable abandonment of the park. That’s what we are working toward,” said city spokeswoman Nicole Clegg.
John Branson, the Portland attorney who has represented Occupy Maine on a pro bono basis for the past four months, said the group asked the city to give them more time — at least until Feb. 12 — to remove the structures and find living quarters for those protesters who are homeless.
“We remain very concerned about those who are truly homeless,” Branson said.
Superior Judge Thomas Warren on Wednesday upheld the city’s decision to deny Occupy Maine’s petition to continue its around-the-clock occupation of Lincoln Park and to use it as a free speech and assembly zone.
Branson said the ruling leaves protesters with no other option but to withdraw from the park.
Clegg said the city is aware that there are homeless people living there. She said the city sent several workers from its Social Services Division to the encampment Thursday to help homeless protesters find housing.
Matthew Coffey, 33, standing outside the encampment’s kitchen Thursday night with no other protesters in sight, said Lincoln Park has become his home.
“It’s disappointing. I don’t know where to go,” said Coffey, who is currently homeless.
Coffey said he has a housing voucher but has been unable to find an apartment.
Coffey said some of his fellow protesters have told him they’ll refuse to leave the encampment. He won’t be among them.
“I don’t have any intention of being dragged out of here by police,” Coffey said.
The group held one of its weekly general assembly meetings Wednesday night in the so-called Ohm Dome, a hut in the shape of an igloo that has served as the encampment’s spiritual center.
Members met inside the dome to discuss their next move after Warren’s ruling.
Harry Brown, who has been living at the camp since it was established, said he wasn’t planning to leave. Branson said Brown, who is homeless, once worked in the city of Portland’s accounting department.
“They’re going to need a search warrant to come into my tent,” Brown told the group. “I intend to be arrested over this eviction. It looks like hell has frozen over and I am standing on the ice.”
Others, such as Deseree Tanguay, said the movement’s message had gotten through to the public. Tanguay said the American Dialect Society chose “occupy” as word of the year for 2011. “The Protester” was named Time Magazine’s person of the year, she added.
Jennifer Rose of Cape Elizabeth has been an active member of the Occupy Maine movement.
Rose said some protesters may engage in acts of civil disobedience on Monday if the city is unable to find shelter for its homeless campers.
“A lot of the people at our camp are not just protesters. They are people with no other place to go. I know that I am prepared to stand my ground for them,” Rose said.
There are also those who feel the protesters should be given more time to relocate the Ohm Dome and the Troy Davis Memorial library and its book collection.
“We’d like to find a home for those structures because we see them as historical pieces,” she added.
Heather Curtis, another Occupy Maine protester, makes handbags out of neckties for a living. Her business slogan is “repurpose the corporate noose.”
“I don’t see anyone chaining themselves to their tents, but you never know,” Curtis said.
Branson believes that Monday morning’s eviction deadline will be met. Protesters on Thursday had already started cleaning up debris that had accumulated in the park.
He said the city has indicated that it might give the protesters a brief extension provided there is evidence of progress in the cleanup. But, he added, “certainly there are those who wish to remain until the police come.”
Branson said the movement will continue beyond the confines of Lincoln Park.
“The end of the encampment has not ended the movement. In New York (Occupy Wall Street) they have a saying: You can’t evict an idea,” Branson said.
Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be reached at 791-6365 or at: