Seven non-violent protesters are arrested at the Blaine House  November 26, 2011. The protesters are kneeling in front of the various law enforcement officials.

Above: Seven Protesters are in the process of being arrested at the Blaine House on November 26, 2011. Roger Leisner Photo

Nine arrested at Blaine House protest

By Mike Reynolds

 

As part of the national Occupy movement, an Occupy Augusta camp was set up in Maine’s capital of Augusta on October 15, 2011. The day after Thanksgiving, after over a month of working with Capitol Police and even working on a food drive with the Governor, the Occupy Augusta Encampment was told by Capitol Police that it would be removed from Capitol Park. A rally was scheduled for that Sunday, November 26th and a restraining order was filed in Federal Court to stop the removal of the encampment.

 

The protesters of Occupy Augusta were keen to provide an inclusive atmosphere to people with disabilities. Several of the activists directly involved with the day-to-day operations of the encampment were people with disabilities. Ryan Begin (who is profiled in a separate article on this site) was featured in a blog on wired.com for his efforts to get testing on PTSD and for the use of Cannabis as a safe treatment for veterans and others with disabilities in Maine and across the nation. Furthermore, the Occupy Augusta encampment tried to be as physically accessible as possible, including having an accessible portable toilet at the encampment until the last week of November.

 

The Occupy Augusta encampment served as a great way to informally meet with activists and exchange information. An activist working on veterans issues would have some natural overlap with folks who work on general disability issues. The encampment seemed to be a great petri dish of interesting activism. It included a group of veterans who were looking at ways to mentor younger veterans who are having a more difficult time adjusting to civilian life. There was a Legislative subgroup that attended a number of hearings, including the hearings in mid-December, over the budget cuts, that would have been devastating to people with disabilities from around the state.

 

The loss of the Occupy Augusta encampment was a huge loss to the activist community, including the disability rights community. So, in my opinion, the encampment was worth standing up for.
 
When I went to the rally at the Occupy Augusta encampment on November 26th, there was a definite air that was different than the other times I had visited. It was in a way, quite foreboding. After parking, my first observation was an unmarked car observing the Occupy Encampment. Then I saw police intermittently circling the Occupy encampment. The amount of police presence was higher than I had seen in my previous times visiting Occupy Augusta. There was a meeting before the rally and I’d say there were approximately 150 people at the rally. The entire march was less than a block and the protesters rallied around the Blaine House, personal home of Maine’s governor. The gates were both unlocked and the governor was away. The protest was peaceful, a bit boisterous but peaceful. A few people made a snow sculpture and a extra tent was left as a way to jokingly “occupy the Blaine house.”
 
The protest wound down when no less than seven different law enforcement agencies were summoned to the Blaine House to arrest seven non-violent protesters who decided to commit an act of civil disobedience. Two individuals were arrested prior to those seven. All nine were released later that day, and were scheduled to be arraigned on January 18 at 10 am at Kennebec County Court House in Augusta.  As an activist with a disability, I think it says a great deal that people with disabilities were active in not only the rally, but also among the arrested. It proves that the Occupy movement does truly represent the entire 99%.
 
There are 65,000 Mainers facing cuts by  the Mainecare system and more people having difficulty heating their homes. The administration is only looking at short sighted ways to make up for a budget deficit that, if passed will hurt thousands of Maine’s elderly and disabled population. If participating in the rally helped prevent those cuts from taking effect, gets other people out to oppose those cuts, or moves the discussion to a significant compromise that overall will benefit Mainer’s with disabilities, then it was well worth it.