AUGUSTA — Protesters arrested Sunday at the Blaine House — among them a Benton selectwoman and a University of Maine at Augusta professor — say they had to make a stand for Occupy Augusta and the downtrodden people they represent.

Meantime, authorities said members of the Occupy Augusta encampment in Capitol Park built a fire Monday night in violation of an agreement worked out between a federal judge, a lawyer representing the group and the state Department of Public Safety. The deal, which came after police demanded the group get a permit or leave the park, was struck in order to allow the group to stay until a Dec. 5 federal court hearing.

Kimberley Cormier, a selectwoman in Benton, was among the nine protesters arrested and charged with trespassing and failure to disperse during a protest on the grounds of the Blaine House, which is the governor’s residence. Gov. Paul LePage wasn’t there during the protest.

Cormier said she knew she would be arrested if she didn’t leave the grounds, but chose to stay and make a stand.

“I’m angry people can’t support their families and live in dignity,” she said Wednesday. “I think if we all do our part, it might make a difference.”

Gregory Fahy, of Hallowell, an associate professor of philosophy at UMA, said he went to the Blaine House to support the rights of Occupy Augusta to express free speech and to peaceably assemble following the news that Capitol Police were requiring the group to get a permit or shut the encampment down.

“Part of the message of the Occupy movement is that the people of the 99 percent — everybody, the unemployed, the poor — deserve a certain amount of respect and dignity and should not be moved out of places if they are peacefully occupying and protesting,” Fahy said. “So my response was I would stand with them at the Blaine House.”

Capitol Police Chief Russell Gauvin told Occupy Augusta participants last week they had to apply by this past Monday for a permit to continue protesting in the park, which is owned and managed by the state. If they didn’t, police would remove them and their tents, he said. Authorities had also told protesters they could no longer camp out overnight in Capitol Park.

However a federal district court judge approved a deal Monday allowing protesters to remain in the park for at least another week, after an agreement was reached between an attorney representing Occupy Augusta and the state Department of Public Safety.

Lynne Williams, an attorney representing Occupy Augusta participants, agreed that the group would not start any fires in the park. State officials agreed to not evict the occupiers from the park, where some have camped since October.

Maine State Police spokesman Steve McCausland said that authorities will not take any action against the Occupy Augusta encampment as long as members agreed to no longer have fires in the park. However, McCausland said Wednesday that Capitol Police discovered a fire Monday night — just hours after the agreement was struck — while making their rounds of the State House complex.

Even so, McCausland said authorities would remain “in a holding pattern, waiting for the hearing on Monday.”

Williams said occupiers had been warned not to start fires but there was some confusion and some in the park believed the restriction only applied to open fires.

“There were fires,” Williams acknowledged.

She said occupiers were surprised to learn about the no fires requirement, because Capitol Police had not previously expressed any concerns about fire safety or the fires they kept to stay warm.

Williams said occupiers in the park have since been warned, again, not to have any type of fires this week. McCausland said he was not aware of any fires in Capitol Park since Monday night.

They’d do it again

About 100 Occupy Augusta members and supporters marched to the governor’s mansion Sunday to protest the state order to end the encampment in Capitol Park and get a permit. Nine were arrested for refusing to leave the Blaine House grounds.

Authorities said all nine people made bail Sunday. Cormier said it cost her about $60 to make bail, which she posted herself, and conditions include staying off the Blaine House property.

Cormier and Fahy both said if they had to do it all over again, they would again go to the Blaine House and refuse to leave. Both also said they plan to fight the charges against them in court. Neither said they were regular participants in Occupy Augusta events, nor had they stayed overnight at the park.

Cormier and Fahy also said they did not believe their arrests would have a negative impact on their roles, she as a town official in Benton and he as a professor at UMA.

“I’ve gotten nothing but support from my fellow selectmen,” Cormier said.

She said she participates in local politics because she believes it is one of the few places in politics where she can make a difference.

She said recent trade agreements approved by legislators will hurt workers and benefit corporations.

“The elite don’t understand the ramifications of these jobs going elsewhere,” Cormier said. “They think Obama is going to save them. But he’s in corporate pockets just as much as Republicans are.”

Fahy said one of the first people he called after making bail Sunday was UMA President Allyson Hughes Handley, to let her know about his arrest.

“Am I worried about my job position because of this? No,” Fahy said. “I think the university supports freedom of speech. I teach an ethics course, and I do teach about civil disobedience. In that sense, I suppose having experience is different than just talking about it.”

Before last week, Capitol Police had allowed the occupiers to stay in the park since October, even though they had not filed for a required permit to protest there. Gauvin has said he was striking a balance between the requirement to apply for a permit and the protesters’ First Amendment rights.

Asked what caused Capitol Police to demand a permit this past weekend, McCausland cited the perception that the encampment was becoming more permanent.

“They were fortifying for winter, bringing in more tarps, flooring, hay bales — there was a permanency there that was not the original intention, as we saw it,” McCausland said.

Gauvin also said the group had caused damage to the grounds of the park and appeared to be engaging in very little protest activity.

A federal court hearing before Judge Nancy Torresen is slated for Monday in Bangor to consider Williams’ request for a temporary restraining order to prevent the state from shutting down the occupy encampment in Augusta. The hearing will also address her lawsuit against the state Department of Public Safety that says the permit requirement is unconstitutional.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]


Protesters arrested and charged with trespassing and failure to disperse during a protest Sunday at the Blaine House were: Elizabeth Burke, Kimberley Cormier, Gregory Fahy, James Freeman, Jenny Gray, Diane Messer, Patricia Messier, David Page and Michael Reynolds.

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