Portland orders OccupyMaine to clear out of Lincoln Park by Monday morning

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PORTLAND — City Manager Mark Rees has ordered OccupyMaine to leave Lincoln Park by 8 a.m. Monday. 

The eviction notice was posted at the Pearl Street entrance to the park early Thursday afternoon. The city extended the protesters’ notice by about a day after a meeting with John Branson, OccupyMaine’s attorney.

City spokeswoman Nicole Clegg was hopeful the protesters will meet the deadline. Rumors circulated around Lincoln Park on Thursday that several activists intended to stay until they are arrested.

“We’ll take it one step at a time,” Clegg said. “We hope to work together for a peaceful, voluntary disencampment.”

Efforts began early Thursday to clear out the occupiers’ common spaces in the park – the Troy B. Davis Memorial Library, the kitchen, the “free store” and the spiritual dome – although by 3 p.m. most occupiers were nowhere to be seen. 

OccupyMaine member Deese Hamilton was cleaning up those common spaces. He said others would be by to help this weekend, but said he wished they had more time.

“We knew the eviction was coming,” Hamilton said, “but we thought we’d have more time, maybe two weeks or so.”

He said he planned to go to Washington, D.C., after clearing out his tent. He came to Maine in July, and says he’s been occupying since the group first set up camp in October.

“Well, I’m homeless now,” he said. “I wasn’t homeless until they kicked me out.”

Hamilton said about nine occupiers intend to hold their ground in Lincoln Park, but he said he couldn’t take that risk. He said other homeless occupiers may not be able to afford a bus ticket, as he can, and that they’d likely end up in shelters or a “hobo jungle” in the woods near the Fore River Parkway.

Clegg said the city’s Social Services department would send service providers to Lincoln Park to try to match homeless protesters with housing services or one of the city’s overnight shelters. The city also delivered a trash bin Thursday morning to help with the cleanup.

The eviction notice came a day after Maine Superior Court Judge Thomas Warren ruled the protesters did not have a right to stay in the park.

While Warren disagreed with the city’s assertion that the encampment is not a form of political speech, he said the city does have a right to impose restrictions on that speech.

“The city is not obliged to agree to such an occupation,” Warren said. “If it did, it would be difficult to see why any other groups wishing to communicate their views would not have an equal right to permanently commandeer public spaces for that purpose.”

It was unclear Thursday whether OccupyMaine would appeal Warren’s decision, or whether the group would pursue a lawsuit challenging the city’s parks ordinance. The group believes that law is effectively “a blanket prohibition on speech and assembly in an public park during certain hours.” City parks close at 10 p.m.

Whatever legal avenue OccupyMaine takes, the group said its campaign against corporate influence in democracy and income inequality would not disappear with the Lincoln Park tents.

“We will have a presence, in this park and in Portland, no matter what happens,” protester Heather Curtis said.

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or mmoretto@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @riocarmine.