PORTLAND, Maine — Today, the ACLU of Maine urged the City of Portland to allow the Occupy Maine group engaged in a round-the-clock demonstration in favor of economic and political justice to remain. The Portland group has occupied Lincoln Park, next door to Portlandâ€™s state and federal courthouses, for a number of months. On Wednesday night, the Portland City Council will vote on whether to approve the groupâ€™s permit application. That meeting will take place at 7:00pm, in the City Council chamber.
â€śThere is nothing more important for our democracy than freedom of expression,â€ť said Shenna Bellows, Executive Director of the ACLU of Maine.â€ť â€śWe urge the City of Portland to set a positive example for cities across the country by allowing this demonstration to continue without disruption.â€ť
In its letter to the Council, the ACLU of Maine noted that one objection to group is that their camp is an â€śeyesoreâ€ť. Given the groupâ€™s message about the growing gap in wealth and political power, the ACLU of Maine believes that it is entirely appropriate that the demonstration cause some discomfort. â€śThose are truths,â€ť the ACLU noted, â€śthat should make people uncomfortable.â€ť
Alysia Melnick, Public Policy Counsel for the ACLU of Maine, also noted that what is an eyesore to some might in fact be beautiful to others. â€śThe sight of so many people giving up their time and their material comforts in support of a higher political purpose is beautiful,â€ť noted Melnick. â€śWhether you agree with the Occupy group or not, you should be proud to live in a country in which this sort of activity is allowed.â€ť
Across the country, and here in Maine, a number of â€śOccupyâ€ť groups have gone to court seeking to assert their First Amendment right to free speech or to protect themselves from excessive police force under the Fourth Amendment. One such case is currently under consideration by Judge Nancy Torresen of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine, involving a group occupying state property in Augusta. While Portlandâ€™s dispute could end up in court, the ACLU of Maine is urging the council to think about free speech principles as much as free speech law.
â€śThe First Amendment sets the floor, and not the ceiling, for free speech activity,â€ť noted ACLU of Maine Legal Director Zachary Heiden. â€śPortland can and should find a way to accommodate this group that respects their right to speak out on important matters of public concern.â€ť
Heiden will attend Wednesdayâ€™s council meeting to offer public testimony and to answer any questions from the council.
Contact Name: Zachary Heiden
Telephone Number: (207)774-5444