AUGUSTA — Occupy Augusta members downplayed the need to coalesce around a set of demands or issues at a public forum on Thursday.

A theme did emerge, however, around giving ordinary people access to the policymaking process.

Several people also expressed support for overturning “corporate personhood” and reforming or reducing the role of money in politics.

More than 80 people attended the forum at the University of Maine at Augusta, including Occupy Augusta protesters, UMA and Erskine Academy students, members of the public and a few public officials.

UMA also invited the Maine Chamber of Commerce and Maine Heritage Policy Center to send representatives, but they did not. A tea party representative attended but did not speak.

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, said he shares the protesters’ anger about the federal government working for “special interests” instead of the public good.

Crafting legislation, however, requires specifics, and Katz said Occupy Augusta’s statements aren’t clear.

“I’m having a hard time understanding your message,” he said.

Demi Colby, a Gardiner resident who has taken part in the Occupy protests in New York City and Boston, said representing “the 99 percent” means a wide variety of viewpoints are included.

“If you start getting into demands or goals, not everyone will agree with the same things,” she said.

“We can all agree that something’s wrong in our country. Right now, we need to unify.”

Later on, Colby spoke up against corporate involvement in government.

“If we could get the money out of politics, it would basically force politicians to take all of our interests, the 99 percent’s interests, to heart,” she said. “They would have to pass the policies that benefit us instead of policies that benefit Citgo or Wal-Mart or these corporations that hire lobbyists.”

Others in the audience advocated campaign finance reform, including Rep. Andy O’Brien, D-Lincolnville, and Rep. Maeghan Maloney, D-Augusta, who both said they could not have been elected without funding from Maine’s Clean Elections law.

Because of the law, they said, they don’t have to worry about writing laws to placate campaign donors.

Now, though, the law has been weakened by U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

Occupy Augusta members say they are helping ordinary people become engaged in crafting policies that affect them.

Athens resident Hillary Lister said anyone can stop by the camp in Capitol Park to talk with other people about current events, become educated on the issues or walk across the street to the State House, as some members have done to testify in recent hearings on state bonds and a landfill expansion.

Pittston resident Lew Kingsbury said the job of the Occupy movement is not to propose specific policies but to change the national discourse and make sure it’s not dominated by the interests of the nation’s wealthiest.

Kingsbury said the movement will have an impact on coming elections.

“In changing the discourse, we’re going to change the makeup of our government,” he said. “It takes time, but we’re not going anywhere.”

Susan McMillan — 621-5645
[email protected]

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