“I expected to be a lot more despondent when this moment finally came,” said Portland resident and Occupy Maine member Heather Curtis, who has been sleeping in the park since the fall. “We’re not giving up.”
The city of Portland has issued Occupy Maine an order to vacate their encampment in Lincoln Park following a court ruling that stated Occupy Maine does not have a constitutional right to camp in inhabit the park around the clock.
“While I understand that members of Occupy Maine may be disappointed with today’s decision, conversations concerning income disparity will continue here in Portland and throughout the nation,” said Portland Mayor Michael Brennan in a statement Wednesday. “Now that these issues have been brought to the forefront, it’s time for the discussion to move indoors.”
The group has been encamped in Lincoln Park since the beginning of October, when it moved there at the city’s request following several nights in Monument Square. The camp quickly grew, taking up much of the park, although the number of permanent occupiers dropped sharply as winter set in.
According to occupier Evan McVeigh, about 25 people have been regularly staying in the park since winter began, though he said that number fluctuates as some campers will occasionally spend a night at a shelter or with friends.
One man who has consistently slept at the encampment is Matthew Coffey. Coffey, who said he has had a city housing voucher for two months but has been unable to find an apartment, said he is unsure where he is going to go when the encampment is dismantled. “They’re kicking us out of somewhere where we’re warm, safe and happy,” said Coffey.
Portland Director of Communications Nicole Clegg said Thursday that members of Occupy Maine who are encamped in Lincoln Park will have at least two days to pack their belongings and comply with the city ordinance restricting use of the park to the hours from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Clegg said the protesters have until Monday morning to clear out, and that she had word from the occupiers that they would assist in the vacation and cleaning of the park.
“We recognize that they have said all along that they want to be good stewards of the park and we want to give them the opportunity to do so,” she said.
Occupy Maine has long claimed their current 24-hour presence in Lincoln Park is an integral part of their message, and it should be protected under the First Amendment. John Branson, the lawyer for Occupy Maine, did not return repeated calls as of press time.
While Superior Court Justice Thomas Warren ruled the group’s physical presence in Lincoln Park is protected speech under the First Amendment, he sided with the city on the matter of 24-hour encampment. According to Warren, despite the group’s presence being considered free speech, it may not interfere with the rights of others in the park, and is therefore subject to reasonable time and place restrictions, like city ordinances regulating the park.
“[Occupy Maine have] offered no authority for the proposition that, in order to communicate their message, they are entitled to commandeer a public forum for an extended period in a 24-hour encampment that necessarily excludes other citizens from their customary use of the park,” Warren wrote in the 24-page decision.
Not everyone agrees that the camp restricts the use of the park. Joe Anderson, 28, of Portland, said he regularly walks through the park without any disturbance. “I’m here aren’t I? I’ve never felt unwelcome,” said Anderson.
Part of the nationwide Occupy Wall Street movement, the Occupy Maine camp was one of several demonstrations in Maine, and the only one still physically occupying public space. Like many around the country, the occupations in Bangor and Augusta pulled up stakes in the fall. The original Occupy Wall Street camp in New York City was evicted by police Nov. 15.