AUGUSTA – After nearly two months, Capitol Park is now unoccupied.

Occupy Augusta activists, some of whom had been staying in the park since Oct. 15 as part of the national Occupy movement, started packing up their encampment Thursday after a federal court ruling gave authorities the backing to evict them if they didn’t apply for a permit and stop staying overnight.

Authorities told the activists to remove any trace of their presence from the park by noon today.

Federal District Court Judge Nancy Torresen ruled Wednesday night that while the Occupy Augusta “tent city” was protected by the First Amendment, the state was acting within its rights to place reasonable restrictions on the time, place and manner of the protest by requiring the occupiers to get a permit, and banning camping in the park, which is owned and managed by the state.

Occupy Augusta participants said Thursday they would not apply for a permit and would instead break down the camp and leave.

Despite their failed bid to halt the state’s eviction efforts, movement participants said they felt Occupy Augusta accomplished a lot.

“It was hugely successful,” said Jim Freeman of Verona Island, one of the original participants in Occupy Augusta and one of the plaintiffs in the federal court case. “The reason they’re shutting down the camps nationally is we made the banks, the 1 percent, very nervous. The public support has been tremendous.”

Attorney Lynne Williams, who filed for an injunction to prevent the state from evicting Occupy Augusta, said she would talk with Occupy participants to consider whether to appeal the federal court decision.

“In many ways it was a long shot,” Williams said of her motion for an injunction against the state. “On the bright side, there does seem to be almost universal recognition that things like tent cities are expressive thought. Once that is agreed upon, the issue becomes whether it is a valid time, place and manner restriction.”

Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, said Thursday that state officials were pleased with Torresen’s decision.

He said occupiers were asked to make significant progress in dismantling their campsite, which Torresen described as comprising .75 acres of the approximately 20-acre Capitol Park. McCausland said the activists were asked to be completely gone by noon Friday, “and to hopefully return Capitol Park to the way it was prior to their encampment starting.”

But he said the state understood there is not much that can be done in December to restore grass.

Occupiers Thursday loaded pallets they’d used for flooring and other materials into trucks.

Moss Stancampiano, who has occupied the park for about a month and was helping break the camp down Thursday, confirmed that the group would not seek a permit.

“Getting a permit would label us an event,” he said. “We’re not an event. We’re not a rock show — that’s not what we’re doing. This is a movement. This is a protest. You don’t get a permit for civil disobedience.”

In the court case, Williams argued that the physical occupation of public spaces was a core element of the occupy message, symbolizing an occupation that “challenges corporations’ permanent occupation of the government,” and the tent city represented an expression of hope for a more just society.

Torresen agreed the tent city could be considered expressive conduct and thus be subject to First Amendment protections. However, she said the state’s permit requirements and ban on overnight camping were reasonable restrictions on the time, place and manner of speech.

“Allowing the plaintiffs to continue indefinitely to occupy the park would ultimately tend to suppress, rather than promote, the free exchange of ideas,” Torresen wrote in her decision. “As a traditional public forum, Capitol Park should be available to all comers to communicate their ideas, not just Occupy Augusta.”

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Keith Edwards can be contacted at 621-5647 or at:

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