AUGUSTA — Mainers brought the Occupy Wall Street movement to the steps of the State House on Saturday, as dozens of people rallied there and in Capitol Park.

The first day of Occupy Augusta attracted about 100 people, many of whom carried signs calling for a variety of reforms: a living wage for all Americans, an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, environmental protections or limitations on corporate influence on policymaking.

Those reforms need to happen not just in Washington and on Wall Street, but also in Augusta, said Ellsworth resident Janea Kelley, who carried a sign that said, “Hey Gov. LePage, you work for the other 99% too.”

Kelley said LePage and many Maine lawmakers are working for the interests of outside lobbying groups, such as the American Legislative Exchange Council, rather than for hard-working Mainers.

“The state level is symptomatic of the larger problem,” Kelley said. “Corporate greed and corporate money in the political system has hurt all of us.”

Kelley, 43, feels lucky to work in a job she likes at a nonprofit organization and to have health insurance. But she said she sees lots of people around her struggling, just as she did when she was growing up.

“I remember where I came from, and I’m here for the people who can’t be here because they’re just trying to make ends meet,” she said.

Another protester, 22-year-old Augusta resident Ashley Summers, said she is struggling. She has a college degree in public administration, but governments aren’t hiring, so she’s raising two children on her pay from Bath Iron Works.

Her husband, Steven Summers, 26, is a senior at the University of Maine at Augusta and doesn’t foresee a lot of prospects after graduation. “I don’t want to join the military again, but I might have to,” he said.

Ashley Summers acknowledged that the protesters have a lot of different motivations, and that they don’t have all the solutions. But she thinks that reducing the role of corporate money in politics would help.

“We just need to get the power back in the people’s hands,” she said. “If you could fix Congress, you could fix all of the issues that people here have.”

Occupy Wall Street protesters have been demonstrating in lower Manhattan for about a month, and Occupy Maine began protests in Portland two weeks ago. Associated protests spread worldwide on Saturday.

Occupy Augusta began late Saturday morning, and several protesters planned to camp in Capitol Park overnight.
One of those was Jarody, a 27-year-old Augusta resident who uses just one name.

Jarody said he became involved with the tea party more than two years ago as a way to express his dissatisfaction with government, but then the tea party became co-opted by the system.

Reforming American government and politics will take a sustained effort, Jarody said.

“The entire system is broken from the ground up,” he said. “Both sides are catering to the same individuals; the same lobbyists have the ear of our politicians regardless of what party they come from.”

Susan McMillan — 621-5645
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