PORTLAND, Maine – A tent city that's among the longest-lived Occupy protest encampments is coming down as part of a new wave of eviction orders against demonstrators aligned with the movement in communities including Miami, Washington and Pittsburgh.
Occupy Maine demonstrators removed several large tents over the weekend, and the city on Monday gave them additional time to remove the rest.
Demonstrators who established the encampment just two weeks after the Occupy Wall Street encampment set up shop in New York City vowed to continue their work to call attention to corporate excess and economic inequality.
"Just because the occupation is changing form doesn't mean it's going away," Heather Curtis, one of the campers, said Monday before she started hauling away her belongings from snow-covered Lincoln Park.
The encampments that were the heart of the movement are becoming scarcer. On Monday, a judge issued what appeared to be the final notice for Occupy Pittsburgh to leave. Over the past week, police began removing demonstrators in Miami; Austin, Texas; and Washington, D.C.
The voices are still making themselves heard, though.
On Monday, about 20 demonstrators disrupted a legislative budget hearing in Albany, N.Y., shouting that millionaires should be taxed more. Albany's camp was busted up in December.
Occupy Maine, which already has office space elsewhere in Portland, plans to continue getting its message out through other means, as well.
"You can only fight for so long and you realize at the end that it's a new beginning," said Deese Hamilton, one of the four named plaintiffs in a lawsuit aiming to keep protesters in Lincoln Park. Hamilton was homeless before joining with the Occupy protesters.
The campers were supposed to be out by Monday morning, and they dismantled four to five communal tents over the weekend. But 16 tents remained Monday morning, and the city granted the group's request for more time, giving them until Friday to finish the cleanup.
There was little activity in the morning. But by the afternoon, several people were raking, and others were taking down tents.
"They've asked for this amount of time in order to remove the remaining structures, so we're taking them at their word," said Nicole Clegg, city spokeswoman.
Occupy Maine started up Oct. 1 with a protest in Portland's Monument square and set up in Lincoln Park two days later.
Throughout the frigid Maine winter, when temperatures have dropped below zero, protesters rotated in and out to keep a constant presence, with those in the park keeping the cold at bay by huddling in communal tents equipped with propane heaters.
At one point, as many as 70 tents were set up in Lincoln Park, but that number had dropped by the time a state judge last week declined to grant Occupy Maine's request for injunction to prevent the city from enforcing an eviction notice issued Dec. 15.
Like in many other cities, Portland officials cited concerns about disturbances, public safety and sanitation at the park, which is supposed to close between 10 p.m. and 6:30 a.m.
In Portland, the demonstrators were largely peaceful. But some of the city's homeless moved in, along with associated problems of substance abuse and mental illness. Police said the number of calls to the park jumped after the demonstrators set up camp.
Most big occupy encampments — including the flagship at New York's Zuccotti Park and in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Oakland, Philadelphia and Portland, Ore. — were forcibly cleared late last year by officials who cited problems similar to Portland's.
In the first big wave of evictions, police acknowledged consulting and sharing information and tactics with colleagues elsewhere. The level of consultation this time around is not clear, although a Portland spokesman did acknowledge talks with officials in Bangor and Augusta, other Maine cities with an Occupy presence.
John Branson, attorney for Occupy Maine, argued that the Portland campers were demonstrating their rights to freedom of expression. He said campers will decide after they finish the cleanup whether they want to continue to pursue the lawsuit.
For now, they're concentrating on getting the park cleaned up, he said, and they plan to raise money to plant new grass and shrubbery in the spring.