UPDATE: Portland extends deadline for OccupyMaine to leave Lincoln Park

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PORTLAND — The deadline for OccupyMaine to vacate Lincoln Park passed quietly Monday morning, with the exception of one protester who burned an American flag.

The park was devoid of any police or city officials when the 8 a.m. deadline passed, and the handful of protesters still in the park waited to see what would happen next.

Just before noon, they found out: The city agreed to extend the deadline until 8 a.m. Friday.

“Folks can continue to stay overnight through Thursday night,” OccupyMaine attorney, John Branson, said in an email to occupiers.

Over the weekend, protesters removed all the communal structures that had been erected over the four-month occupation, including their library, kitchen and spiritual dome.

But Branson said more time is needed to find housing for several homeless protesters and to finish removing the roughly 15 tents still standing in the park.

City Hall spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said the city is also working to connect the homeless occupiers with housing, and asked the group for a chance to speak at its next General Assembly.

“Our hope is for the next four days their focus will be on removing tents and structures,” Clegg said in an interview. “We’re taking them at their word that given this additional time they’ll be able to remove debris and return the park to its original condition.”

But as the original deadline approached Monday morning, OccupyMaine members were still unsure what to expect. Former city employee Harry Brown, 59 and now homeless, raised an American flag on the flagpole at the center of the camp and set it on fire.

Brown said the city is destroying the symbol of OccupyMaine’s message by evicting the group from the park, and that burning the symbol of America was meant to parallel that message.

“This symbol has served it’s purpose,” he said. “It no longer stands for what it once did.”

Most occupiers continued chatting or cleaning up, but a large group of news reporters, photographers and videographers surrounded Brown.

“I’m sure I’ll be written up as the radical activist who dared to burn a flag in the square,” he said. “But I love what this country stands for. … If the country is not where it should be, we have a right to fight and change it.”

Brown also said burning is the proper way to dispose of a flag. Clegg said the city had no statement on the flag burning.

City Manager Mark Rees on Thursday, Feb. 2, gave notice that OccupyMaine had until 8 a.m. Monday to strike the camp and clear out of Lincoln Park. The notice came a day after Maine Superior Court Judge Thomas Warren ruled the protesters did not have a right to stay in the park.

By Monday morning, occupiers had filled two industrial-size dumpsters provided by the city with debris and were working on a third. Protesters were cleaning out and taking down some of the 17 tents still standing in the park.

Most of the dozen or so Occupiers who camped in the park until the very end said they planned to leave the park peacefully, but many predicted a confrontation could come at 10 p.m. Monday, when the park officially closes. Nobody would say what that resistance would look like or how many people would be involved.

After the deadline was extended, it became even less certain that any action or demonstration would take place. But from the beginning of the encampment at Lincoln Park, individual OccupyMaine members have said they’d resist eviction, whenever it comes.

“Those who feel strongly about staying are free to do as they wish,” occupier Deseree Tanguay said. “Occupy is an aggregate of a lot of individual philosophies.”

But not everyone was excited about the possibility of resistance, or supportive of individual activists’ prerogatives.

“If they resist, it would look badly on us,” occupier Matt Coffey said Sunday. “The media, everyone else is going to lump us all together.”

OccupyMaine has been camping in Lincoln Park for four months in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street. The groups oppose income inequality and corporate influence in politics and government.

The group has an office at the Meg Perry Center on Congress Street, and has said it will continue planning demonstrations and “direct actions” to address the grievances of “the 99 percent.”

“They think this is the end of Occupy,” occupier Alan Porter said Sunday. “But they’ve got another thing coming.”

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

This report was updated at 4:20 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 6, 2012.

Sidebar Elements

Occupy Maine protester Harry Brown, 59, stands by as an American flag he set ablaze in Lincoln Park burns Monday morning. Portland officials told protesters they had until 8 a.m. Monday to take down structures in the camp. Burning the flag was a response to that decision, Brown said: “This symbol has served its purpose. It no longer stands for what it once did.”

Deese Hamilton tosses boxes of food out of his tent in Lincoln Park on Sunday. Occupiers and supporters worked throughout the weekend to clean up the park after Portland officials told them that they had until 8 a.m. Monday to leave the park.

Steve Demetriou, left, an Occupy supporter, pulls a load of scrap wood away while helping protesters to take down the encampment’s larger structures in Lincoln Park in Porltand on Saturday.