PORTLAND – It’s been almost four months since members of the Occupy Maine movement were evicted from Lincoln Park after several weeks of tension between occupiers and city officials.

But the group hasn’t faded away.

When President Obama visited Maine for two fundraisers in late March, occupiers protested the role that money plays in politics. In April, members decried a proposed interest-rate hike on student loans. Last week, members spent Tuesday and Wednesday cleaning up Congress Square, planting flowers and fretting over the future of the public space. They plan to take part in the First Friday Art Walk events this summer as a way to continue communicating their message.

Occupiers also meet every Wednesday and Saturday in Congress Square for what they call General Assembly. Only now, like every other group that wants to demonstrate downtown, Occupy Maine secures permits when needed and otherwise complies with all ordinances, according to city of Portland spokeswoman Nicole Clegg.

“I think things ended amicably in terms of the encampment,” Clegg said, referring to the court order that required occupiers to disband from Lincoln Park. “And it’s worked itself out well since.”

The Occupy movement originated last fall on Wall Street in New York City as a way to give voice to the “99 percent” of Americans in a protest against economic inequality. Its message spread across the country.

In some cities, occupiers have clashed with police, sometimes violently, but that aggressive approach never materialized in Portland.

Although momentum has stalled since it regularly made headlines months ago, members in Portland insist that the group’s message hasn’t changed.

Evan McVeigh, 27, was part of the original encampment in Lincoln Park and returned to Portland earlier this month to rejoin the Occupy effort. He talked Wednesday afternoon from the Meg Perry Center, a nonprofit group on Congress Street that advocates for peace and social justice. It is a place that has become popular with occupiers.

“What Occupy is at its core is a dialogue,” he said. “It’s democracy, so it’s always a work in progress. Initially, I think the encampment was a symbol of coming together and, for better or worse, I think we did that.”

Kara Oster, 20, came to Portland from Bar Harbor in March, after the original Occupy Maine encampment disbanded. She was part of the Occupy movement in Bar Harbor and has remained active now that she’s in Portland. She also spent Wednesday afternoon at the Meg Perry Center.

For her, Occupy Maine is a network, an exchange of ideas. The common thread among all Occupy’s causes, though, is the feeling that a small percentage of people wield all the power when important decisions are made.

“The way to change is to change on an individual level,” she said. “Every time someone comes in and talks about their struggles, I feel like if I’m listening, I’m helping.”

Some Occupy causes are national, but Oster said local issues also generate interest. Occupy Maine has taken a particular interest in the future of Congress Square, in part because it uses the park regularly, but also because the group fears it could be taken over by a corporate entity. Rockbridge Capital, which owns the Eastland Park Hotel, wants to buy the plaza from the city so it can build a ballroom there.

“There is a need for public space for assembly and this is a beautiful space that’s been forgotten,” McVeigh said. “But we’d rather preserve it than keep selling it off.”

When occupiers filled Lincoln Park with tents and people every night last fall and winter, there were inevitable problems — fights, public drinking and minor criminal mischief mostly.

Since the park was cleared, though, police haven’t had any problems with occupiers, Clegg said.

Jan Beitzer, executive director of Portland’s Downtown District, said Occupy Maine folks have not been an issue for businesses, either.

“This is Portland. People demonstrate all the time,” she said.

City Councilor David Marshall, the only councilor who voted to allow occupiers to stay in Lincoln Park, said the group has evolved.

“They aren’t occupying space, so that constant reminder is no longer there, but they are staying in the public eye and speaking out on things they think are important,” he said.

Staff Writer Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @PPHEricRussell


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