October 30, 2011

Sarasota Rally In Solidarity w/OWS

In other parts of the country, Occupy Movement protesters suffered rain, wind, and snow, but in Sarasota, we were blessed with perfect weather yesterday. There was no police presence. All in all, about one hundred amiable folks from all walks of life lined Tamiami Trail displaying signs and waving at the cars streaming by. This was the third Sarasota rally.

I spoke with John from Sarasota. I am not showcasing him, because of his passion, his special story, or his looks. Rather because he is representative of an informed citizen who knows something is very wrong.

John is a registered Republican. He is worried about the military-industrial complex, the U.S. deficit, and the expensive wars we are fighting. He spoke to the issue of powerful individuals and corporations gaming the system and the plight of the middle class. And he is here, because he wants politicians to take notice. He also shared some stock tips.

October 29, 2011

Twitter and The News

I came to the Twitter party later than many, and I came with a bad attitude. As an outsider, I saw social media as a huge waste of both time and computing power. I really don't care what kind of mint is lying on your hotel pillow or when you are going to walk your dog. As a social media outsider, I saw it as distracting, indiscriminate, and overwhelming. Yes, I read that Egyptian revolutionaries leveraged the power of instant messages, Twitter, and Facebook to effect regime change in under three weeks. And in China, social networking has helped spread the word about environmental issues and mobilize protests against polluters. But, their media is heavily censored and so they are forced to look elsewhere for their news. And, when it comes to Twitter, I mean forced. Why would you choose to limit your message to 140 characters? The amount of information in a tweet is not worth the time spent looking at it.

That was two weeks ago. Now I think that a hefty chunk of what we used to call journalism already revolves around Twitter. My opinion changed on Tuesday, October 25, 2011, the day of the Occupy Oakland violence.

I got to my computer at around 9am, and reluctantly brought up a Twitter window. It had been about a week, since I set up my Twitter account. I had acquired 29 followers and was following 129 others. This meant that I would be deluged with hundreds of short messages, many without useful context, and a few of potential interest. I immediately noticed that there were lots of tweets about Occupy Oakland. It sounded like the police had assaulted protesters with rubber bullets, flash grenades, and gas canisters. Now mind you, it was 9am Eastern Time, but only 6am in Oakland. I spent about twenty minutes trying to verify this news via the internet. Some of the tweets pointed to videos that people had posted online, but it was dark out and hard to really make out what was going on with all the mayhem. As it dawned in Oakland, it dawned on me that I knew more about what had just happened in Oakland than most of the world, including those living in Oakland!

This was real-time news and it was not an accident. When I set up the Twitter account, Karen Brown, CEO of StardustBlue Media , advised me to follow a few major news outlets and many local Occupy Wall Street groups. By doing this, I created a specialized news community of sorts. One focused on Occupy activities around the globe. Something big under the Occupy umbrella would reverberate due to tweets and retweets echoing within my personal community news "channel".

I considered helping to break this news in my blog, OccupyMyCity. After about an hour pondering the many ethical questions that surfaced for me, I decided not to report anything, until later in the day. I was hoping that someone from the mainstream media, the City of Oakland or the Oakland Police Department would say something official. What could I verify sitting so far away in Florida. I waited a few hours without hearing anything from those in authority. I went ahead and posted on my blog, but indicated that there might be a difference of opinion about who did what when.

The tweets grew over the course of the afternoon. The Occupiers were regrouping and planning to take back the area. There were various broadcasts of what was going on around the City. I didn't watch a single mainstream news report. Instead, I relied on citizen tweets linking me to disturbing videos of their fellow citizens being attacked by police. I was appalled.

But others were watching the live feeds from the likes of ABC and CBS. Lili Loofbourow, a writer living in Oakland, wrote of her experience:

... When the ABC livefeed went down, everyone watching switched. Then the CBS feed turned into a picture of the Capitol. To sum up: the only two mainstream media live-feeds switched off at precisely the same instant—the minute before fifteen police departments working together engulfed a peaceful group of protesters in tear gas.

That crucial minute, when the media (whether by accident or in compliance with police orders) enabled the police to tear-gas peaceful American citizens untelevised...

Ms. Loofbourow is very engaging in her first-person account of how she found herself sitting with a group of adults in Occupy Oakland seriously debating policy as if their decision made a difference.

I surmise that there were news helicopters hovering, waiting for a story, and then when the story came ... a deafening silence. Ms. Loofbourow's account looks like censorship. I don't tend to harbor conspiracy theories, but, I am unnerved at the precision with which this story did not break.

Until today, I did not understand Twitter's role in the news business. Now I know that it is an excellent tool to monitor and deliver news. And in the face of censorship, it may work better than the corporate media.

Sources: The AWL

October 28, 2011

New Revenue Stream For Local Police Departments?

Entrepreneurs are bursting with ideas on how to monetize Occupy Wall Street. A New York couple is trying to trademark the phrase Occupy Wall St. with the intent of selling t-shirts and other merchandise. It's not quite as bad as it sounds. Robert Maresca says that he'd sell the trademark to Occupy Wall Street for just $1 plus expenses. Andy Borowitz captures the irony with a humorous Letter from Goldman Sachs. "... At Goldman, we recognize that the capitalist system as we know it is circling the drain – but there’s plenty of money to be made on the way down. ... ".
But my favorite are the police departments around the country. There is money to be made enforcing petty laws with large fines. Starting October 21, the Fort Myers Police Department began issuing citations to protestors for occupying Centennial Park after park hours. The first citation is $135 and the second is $250. In Tucson, Arizona, the Occupiers face a maximum $1,000 fine for violating the park closing rules. As of October 27, they had handed out over 70 citations to Occupy Tuscon protesters.  Since October 9, Cincinnati police have issued 239 citations to 91 people for violating curfew rules. So far this has amounted to almost $25,000 in fines in Cincinnati. In Des Moines, Iowa, a judge ordered those Occupiers charged with tresspassing to pay a $100 fine plus court costs, surcharges, and a $125 law enforcement initiative surcharge. How much is your city fining its Occupy protesters? In this age of budget cutting, police departments around the nation may start eyeing their local Occupiers as a cash cow.

Sources: CNN, Borowitz Report, WBBH-TV via msnbc.com, fox11az.com, Cincinnati.com, KCCI Des Moines,

October 27, 2011

1:23AM Eastern Time: Sarasota in Solidarity with Oakland

12 noon UPDATE. As reported by news outlets all over the country, the original teardown of Occupy Oakland on Tuesday was followed by an even more violent police crackdown against returning protesters. Jon Stewart made comedy based on the reaction from the Oakland Police. Then Wednesday night, Occupy Oakland protestors tore down the fences that had been erected to keep them out of Frank Ogawa Plaza. They held a general assembly of approximately 2,000 people. No police arrived on the scene. The Occupiers peacefully voted to hold a general strike on November 2nd. And late Wednesday night, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan reportedly issued a statement of concern for those who were injured and support for the Movement going forward. I am only able to find one source for this - a blog post from Aimee Allison reporting this for the San Francisco Chronicle - but it warms my heart. Even if it is entirely fabricated, this is exactly what the Mayor should say and do. There's still time.

October 25, 2011

A Tale of Two Occupied Cities

Two Occupied Cities have responded very differently to their protesters.

Occupy Albany (New York) is camped out in a park across from the Capitol and City Hall. The park is composed of City land and State land. As reported by the Times Union, on Friday evening, with pressure from Governor Cuomo, Albany's Mayor Jennings directed the Albany police chief to enforce Albany's curfew law on the City land. For his part, the Albany police chief issued this memo to his officers, "At this time I have no intention of assigning officers to monitor, watch, videotape or influence any behavior that is conducted by our citizens peacefully demonstrating in Academy Park." A State Police Civil Disturbance unit had also been called to the scene. Between the two enforcement units, NO arrests were made, despite political pressure from above.

Occupy Oakland (California) had been camped out in front of City Hall for about two weeks. According to a Mercury News report, several City officials had originally supported the protest and even joined in. This morning, hundreds of police decked out in riot gear, came to dismantle the peaceful camp. Estimates vary quite a bit, but apparently, when the police arrived, there were more police officers than protesters. The police used tear gas and bean bag bullets against the crowd. Some from the crowd threw things at the police. There will probably be a difference of opinion on who did what first.

The police let many protesters out of the area, and then arrested about eight-five people. Some were held on as much as $7500 bail. Overall, this police action was a show of force.

How will this play out over the next few days? Here's my prediction. The Oakland police have just invited an influx of Occupiers - new and returning - as well as a lot more interest from the media. The Albany police will have relatively little media coverage as well as a much more cooperative and productive relationship with the protesters.

J.P. Dobrin of San Francisco took some beautiful photos of the dismantling of Occupy Oakland.

October 24, 2011

Campaign Reform: A (Partial) Solution

It is overwhelming to review the data and analysis provided by others concerning the influence of big money in politics. The fun part is coming up with solutions. Campaign spending limits are at the top of many such discussions. But this got me to thinking about the benefits of political campaigns. Are there any? It's a bit extreme, but I would like to see a list of candidates, their resumes, a short video, and their detailed position papers rather than have to witness the mudslinging of a political campaign. Is there anyone who believes that the $3.6 billion spent for the 2010 midterm federal elections was money well spent? So, why bother putting a limit on campaign spending? Just make it illegal. End of discussion. Figuring that someone else has probably worked this out already, I perused the internet and found the Get Money Out Foundation. They are considering trying to pass the following constitutional amendment -

No person, corporation or business entity of any type, domestic or foreign, shall be allowed to contribute money, directly or indirectly, to any candidate for Federal office or to contribute money on behalf of or opposed to any type of campaign for Federal office.

Of course, that's not really the end of the discussion. It would be a giant step. But, what role would media play? We would still have free speech. If the major media could broadcast their opinions and choose which facts to report and which not to report, then we'd simply be ushering in the Era of Big Media.

Perhaps the root of the problem is simple demographics. We are a country of almost 300 million people, many of whom actually vote. It takes Big Money to win over such a Big Population. And it's a high stakes game.

October 23, 2011

Campaign Reform: The Problem

There's been a strong link between money and politics in the United States since we started holding elections. Bill Moyers gave the keynote at Public Citizen's 40th anniversary gala. He shared sentiments from 120 years ago that are currently echoing at Occupy Wall Street with uncanny precision -

During the great prairie revolt that swept the plains a century after the Constitution was ratified, the populist orator Mary Elizabeth Lease explained “Wall Street owns the country. Our laws are the output of a system which clothes rascals in robes and honesty in rags. The parties lie to us, and the political speakers mislead us,” because, she said, “money rules.”

That was 1890. And those agrarian populists were boiling over with anger that the corporations, banks and government were conniving to deprive everyday people of their livelihood.
Precise echoes of this sentiment are at the heart of the Occupy Movement.

Twenty-two months ago, in the Citizens United case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations can spend as much as they want to influence elections. “The Story of Citizens United v. FEC” is an animation by Annie Leonard from The Story of Stuff. In it, she explains why elections shouldn’t be for sale to corporations.

The Citizen's United decision has unleashed a torrent of corporate political contributions. Public Citizen sends me emails every week that start off with statistics documenting the corruption that we call campaign finance. From October 29, 2010 -

  • 149: Number of independent groups that have spent money to influence this year’s elections (according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) reports through Oct. 25)
  • $176.1 million: Amount those groups have spent on the midterms
  • 10: Number of groups responsible for the bulk of that spending
  • 59.9 percent: The percentage of that money that comes from undisclosed sources
Here's a stunner from January 28, 2011 -
  • $5.6 million: The amount House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) received in corporate-linked donations during the 2010 midterm campaign
  • 40 percent: The increase in corporate donations Cantor received between 2008 and 2010
  • $1.2 million: The amount Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), the new head of the financial services committee, received from banking interests in the midterms. Bachus wants to undo financial reform.
  • $400,000: The amount Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), new chair of the energy and commerce committee, took from energy and mining industries
  • 50 percent: The increase in donations to Upton from energy and mining interests between 2008 and 2010
From 8/29/2011, the congressional super committe is already bought and paid for -
  • 12: The number of lawmakers that make up the bipartisan “super committee” created under the debt ceiling deal
  • $64.6 million: The amount that super committee members received in campaign contributions from special interests over the past decade
  • More than 100: Number of staffers for super committee members who have moved on to lobbying shops
The Center for Responsive Politics website provides a wealth of such statistics.

October 21, 2011

First Occupy Tampa Arrests

Perhaps it was a consquence of yesterday's Tampa City Council meeting, or perhaps tensions were just heading toward a confrontation regardless. This morning, six Occupy Tampa protesters were apparently arrested for violating City Code Section 22-8 which prohibits placing an article or thing on the sidewalk. When I arrived, the police were gone, but three news vehicles were parked on the sidewalk. Evidently a vehicle on the sidewalk does not violate City Code Section 22-8.

The remaining Occupiers felt that the police had selectively targeted a subset of the protesters - those with sleeping gear

Nick W had followed the police around trying to get arrested, but with no success. Nick demonstrated one of his unsuccessful poses.

The video footage of the arrests is not particularly interesting, but it does show that the Occupiers are documenting everything.

The Tampa police had clearly told the Occupiers that they were not allowed to sleep between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. After interactions with Tampa City Council members yesterday, at least some of the protesters were convinced that they would not be breaking the law by sleeping on the sidewalk during the day. On my way home from Tampa, I heard John Dingfelder, a lawyer with the ACLU, on radio station WMNF. His opinion was that Tampa would not be able to enforce their ordinance in this manner. Perhaps the City of Tampa's legal team had their doubts as well, since it took a week and a half to make the first arrest. Short term, the logistics of getting arrested and avoiding arrest will likely continue to preoccupy most Occupy Tampa protesters.

October 20, 2011

Occupy Tampa Protesters and Police Chief both vent to Tampa City Council

Things are heating up for Occupy Tampa. One Tampa City Council Member had asked the Tampa Police to come give the Council an update on Occupy Tampa. This was based on complaints he had received from the Occupiers. At Curtis Hixon Park, Dania S and Keith C talk about what they consider to be police harassment of the protesters.

[above footage is from October 21]
Due to these complaints about police behavior, at today's City Council meeting, members sought clarification on Tampa ordinances and the police perspective on enforcement of those ordinances. The video record of this drawn out exchange is interesting on several counts, but I will only focus on one point: all sides agreed that it was terrific that nobody had been arrested. This would seem to imply that the police felt they had ample reason for arrests, but had resisted that urge over the last week and a half. After the planned meeting, members of Occupy Tampa took turns in front of the microphone, but this was not recorded. Various protesters told me that most folks expressed an interest in finding a central, public space for conducting their protest without harassment. Two Council members continued the discussion after the formal end of the meeting. The protesters I spoke with felt that they had won the hearts and minds of the Council, overall.

Unfortunately, all this preoccupation with the logistics of not getting arrested, of where Occupiers can sleep, when they must get up, where they can put their belongings, and when they must move their belongings has left precious little time for other subjects of discussion. The issue of getting arrested and/or avoiding arrest has taken a large chunk of the group's attention. After today's City Council meeting, it is not clear that this will change any time soon.

October 18, 2011

Hypothesis: True Unemployment Rate Is Never Reported

The issues highlighted by the Occupy Movement have been around for awhile. Yet, in September, when I asked myself what has changed, I did not have to ruminate at all. Immediate ideas came to mind. One was how hard it is to find a job.

My son just graduated from college this year, in 2011. Over the past year, many of my son's friends, who graduated a year ago, have been been pounding the sidewalks looking for work. They graduated from New College, Florida's Honor College.

One of these graduates was smart and articulate, presented well, and looked like a great employee catch. But his job search quickly degenerated into looking for whatever low-paying job would take him. As it turns out, jobs waiting tables were almost impossible to come by. When did that happen? The proportion of restuarants to population is oversized in Sarasota. We have an excess of restaurants due to being a tourist magnet. Yet, this young man was having trouble finding a job busing tables. If one of my contemporaries were to regale me with their career path, it might start out like this, "In high school back in the 70's, I began by busing tables ...". But today, a college graduate feels lucky to nab such a job.

If this were an isolated incident, I wouldn't think much of it, but all of my son's contemporaries are having great difficulty securing jobs, never mind finding something in their field. I think this represents something larger. Over the past couple of years, the media has highlighted the stories of laid-off workers - a magazine editor snapping up a job in retail or an investment banker making ends meet as a bartender. And now I can add to this list - a newly minted college grad having trouble landing a job busing tables. This is the face of job destruction. This is what follows downstream after global corporations ship their jobs overseas. Or if you are Rick Scott, the Governor of Florida, you might argue it's the face of all those college graduates with useless degrees in anthropology.

When I graduated college in 1980, I remember confronting the viscious cycle of not being able to get certain jobs because I didn't have the experience. And, yet, how was I supposed to get that experience, if I couldn't get a job. At the time, I remember tracking the official unemployment statistics as they got worse in 1981 and 1982, passing the 10% mark into the double digits.

U.S. Unemployment Rates Month-by-Month
Even with such high unemployment rates, in 1980-1982, there were jobs waiting tables, loading boxes for freight companies, fixing cars. Today the official unemployment numbers look better in comparison, at 9.1%. Yet jobs are scarce. The duration of unemployment is longer. We have lost far more jobs during the last couple of years than we did in the early 80's. And, it seems that many more people have given up looking for work.

It will shock no one that statistics sometimes lie. Admittedly, I was duped by these statistics into a quasi-complacency concerning unemployment. But due to the employment status of my son's friends, I looked into it. I found a nice quote from a May 13 article, "Is the U.S. Unemployment Rate Really 9.0 Percent?".

For example, counting only people who have been actively looking for work for 15 weeks or more in North Dakota gives an unemployment rate of 1.1 percent in 2010.

On the other hand, counting people in Nevada who wish they had a full-time job and don't have one, including those who gave up and went back to school, took a low paying retail job because they couldn't find a job that uses their skills, started a small business, or got caught stealing and are now in jail, the rate is likely well over 30 percent.

After two seconds of thought, I am willing to hazard a hypothesis that the true unemployment rate is always whitewashed. Otherwise, the approval ratings of incumbent politicians would plummet, and they would not get reelected. So forget about the statistics and talk with those around you. Statistically, you're very likely to find someone Occupying Your City who is looking for work and looking for an opportunity to discuss it.

October 16, 2011

Satire from Dan Ohrenstein

And now for a little satirical commentary from Dan Ohrenstein, reposted from his Facebook.

Protesters are always wrong. Why? Because the world is just! People always get exactly what they deserve. The jobless, therefore, possess a defect of character that inevitably led them to destitution and shame. Likewise, victims of cancer die simply because they are not proactive enough in curing cancer. In addition, species which meet extinction in the course of industrialization failed to adapt or otherwise make themselves useful and, thus, deserve oblivion.

The protesters are uneducated about this fundamental fact to reality: it is as foolish to think one can change the economic system as it is foolish to think one can change Nature, for modern capitalism derives from Nature and its one law: survival of the fittest. It is our duty to Nature to let the meek, the unproductive, and the unfortunate perish in misery. It must be so.

If that vile consortium of riff-raff clogging the glorious halls of Wall Street have a legitimate grievance, then remedy already exists: they can buy controlling share in the world's largest banks and democratically vote out the managers they do not like. It's that easy!

So, there's no need and, further, no right to whine about one's lot. One's destiny is secured in one's character. And, we have no greater example of wisdom, compassion, courage, creativity, and ability than the executives of our major corporations, who only want what is best for us. It is just that, with their infallible vision, these masters of the universe be charged with directing our society's blood and treasure where they are needed the most, namely: in the service of enriching our noble executives, financiers, and captains of industry to the fullest extent they deserve. They are our finest citizens, and, in serving themselves, serve us all.

As a dog does not complain eating scraps off the table of his master, so too should those anarchists, those pestilent protesters give thanks to our flawless financiers. What a shame they have to step over those piles of indigence on their way to make an honest living. Let us all stop complaining and give thanks to our great and glorious masters: the omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent businessmen of Wall Street.

October 15, 2011

Occupy Sarasota, Global Day of Action

In solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Sarasota participated in a Global Day of Action. There were rallies planned in 951 cities, worlwide. In Sarasota, a couple of hundred people showed up with loads of handmade signs. Way to go Sarasota! Everybody I spoke with had a sense of what they wanted to see fixed. Some even had a notion of how to go about it. To show the diversity of priorities brought to this event, I've mashed up a video with a small snippet from the General Assembly and highlights of the signs sported by the participants. Note that Occupy Sarasota is using the people's mic.

October 13, 2011

OccupyTampa Now Occupying Tampa

I checked the list of supplies needed by Occupy Tampa. Despite our culture's embrace of electronics, they were requesting legal pads and pens. I had been looking for someone in need of pristine typing paper, graph paper, and legal pads that we had accumulated over the years. Finally, an interested recipient! They didn't want any more apples and bananas. Were they looking for more exotic fruit? Puzzlingly, there were no requests for sleeping bags or ponchos. I stocked up on legal pads and papayas and headed over to Tampa for a visit.

Upon arrival in downtown Tampa, I saw some shade structures set up at Curtis Hixon Park. A small and friendly group has been camping out for five nights now. They started at about 15 strong and last night's count was up to 41. Jordan H comments on the current status of OccupyTampa.

They have put together a kitchen area and amassed a small supply of blankets, pads, sleeping bags, and folding chairs.

Although most folks bring their own sleeping gear, the participants had taken it upon themselves to stockpile extra gear for the homeless and for those that might come unprepared. Tampa is warm all year, but there are blankets -

I had been there about an hour, when a report came in from New York City that the Occupy Wall Street protesters had been ordered to clear Liberty Plaza by tomorrow morning at 7am. Ostensibly this was because the park needed to be cleaned. But since the New York City Police Commissioner had also said they would NOT be able to return with any sleeping bags, tarps, or personal items, this was clearly an eviction notice. This elicited a strong response of solidarity from the Tampa group.
Stephen G, a participant here in OccupyTampa, just returned from spending four days at OccupyWallStreet. He was impressed with a high level of organization there and looks forward to helping set that up in Tampa. He comments on the diversity he found at OccupyWallStreet -

October 12, 2011

Five Points Park / Occupy Sarasota - Analaysis

My friend, Estelle G, let me know this morning that she has relatively little interest in politics, but she wants to follow the Occupy news. She went on to say that only one issue in the recent past has left her hot and bothered. It wasn't the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It wasn't the ballooning federal deficit. No, Estelle was upset last Spring, when the City of Sarasota removed park benches from the lovely downtown Five Points Park. See the story.

The City of Sarasota removed the benches from Five Points Park so that homeless people who gathered there would have no place to sit! Evidently, condo owners with views overlooking the park felt their safety and property values were under siege. Never mind that nobody was violating any laws. Never mind that many other city residents enjoyed the benches.

And what, exactly, bothered Estelle about this decision? It was that moneyed interests had gotten the City to react with such heartlessness.

"From the website, The Best Pictures From The Occupy Wall Street Protest"

In the same vein, many participating in the Occupy Movement take issue with moneyed interests subverting the common good. As the first declaration from Occupy Wall Street stated "... We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known..." See the full declaration. Estelle, take heart.

October 11, 2011

Who Is Behind The Occupy Movement?

Last night I had dinner with Jeanette T. She was up-to-date on Occupy Bradenton. She knew when and where they had demonstrated. But, when it came to the question of who organized it, she had been led astray. According to her, the news had reported that the unions had organized the protest. Certainly, starting last week, organized labor has visibly endorsed the movement, marching in New York City, and swelling the ranks of the participants. But that is a far cry from spearheading the movement.

From what I've seen, the Occupation is more about participation than organization. Labor unions are heirarchical. Folks who showed up for the Occupy Bradenton event on Sunday weren't even sure whether the person who had announced the event on Facebook was in attendance. Union members elect their leaders and rely on them for representation. Most of the Occupy groups are using direct democracy and a consensus model for decision making.

Some media outlets are at a loss to explain WHO organized the Occupation. But in many ways the groundswell of a response is far more interesting. I find it especially appealing that people are speaking to one another. And that people are listening to one another.

October 7, 2011

The People's Microphone

I was willing to drive all the way up to Tampa to take part in yesterday's protests, because I just assumed that nothing would be going on in Sarasota. Evidently I didn't look hard enough. Yesterday, at 10am in Sarasota, several dozen protesters rallied at the intersection of Orange & Main Streets. They weren't planning to stay overnight, but they certainly were expressing solidarity. In fact, there appears to be another group also planning an Occupy Sarasota event.

As it turns out, there are plenty of groups in small communities within an hour's drive of me - Bradenton, Largo, Dunedin, St. Pete, and probably more. This reminds me of a huge relay system. The core group is in New York City. Autonomous cities and towns in the rest of the country tune in and sponsor their own events. Everybody uses the internet to report on what is going on. Or maybe more like decentralized democracy. Think global, act local. Take your pick.

Yesterday, Occupy Tampa decided NOT to Occupy Tampa, but rather to come back during the following days. The process used to make this decision was fascinating. There was a general assembly. Decisions were made by consensus. Any single person could block a decision. Anybody could speak, in turn. And we didn't use a mic or megaphone. Rather, we used the people's mic. In the following snippet, the legal liaison presents some legal issues to the group regarding possible arrest and support from the ACLU -

If people aren't paying attention, the call goes out "Mic Check" and the assembly repeats a call and response "Mic Check", until everybody's attention is focused on the speaker. Everything the speaker says is repeated by those that are close enough to hear. In this manner, a large number of people can hear a speech without electrical amplification. At first, this is quite bizarre. It sounds like an indoctrination session, with the assembly repeating everything, even if it so much hogwash. It is an odd sensation to repeat what someone is saying, especially if you do not agree with it! And, it is slow slogging. But, as you can see from the video, it is effective for communicating to a large group. By the end of the day, there was a constant, loud, helicopter noise overhead. With the people's mic, we could still speak and be heard.

October 6, 2011

Finding Occupy Tampa

I had been looking for a local outlet to express solidarity with the Washington October action against the last ten years of war in the Middle East. Instead I found OccupyTampa.

OccupyTampa claimed to be a non-organization organizing in solidarity with the OccupyWallStreet movement. Although we did not plan to stay overnight, Tom and I headed up to Tampa with a vague notion of supporting the anti-corporate sentiment that has been bubbling up in our country. This sentiment is fueled by massive bank bailouts, continuing home foreclosures, gross disparaties in income between those at the top and those at the bottom, and our politicians' inability to solve much of anything.

This is what some of us looked like as we marched through downtown Tampa (note Tom on the far right).

Many negative online commenters said we were mostly young hippies and unemployed, or "Quit Whining and Go Get A Job". But you can probably tell from just one picture that such descriptions don't capture our essence. We carried signs expressing a diversity of gripes. I think this is what grassroots looks like - an unfocused message. Since we didn't have a permit, we split up into smallish groups, walked in the crosswalks, and obeyed all traffic signals. And, there were a lot of us! Especially during a work day, on a Thursday !!

Florida is not a hotbed for activism of any sort. We are usually at the tail end of even retail revolutions, never mind political revolutions. So, I am amazed that OccupyTampa is happening. And at a time, when we are still formulating the message, sounding out sound-bites, and finding focus.

My mind was rolling around as I drove home to Sarasota. I had never before been part of a people's mic (more about that tomorrow). I appreciate that non-violence is integral. And, I have no idea why so much animosity is directed at the Federal Reserve; I will research that and report back. At a time when I am starting to feel crisis-fatigue, when I watch/read mainstream news coverage, I like the idea that groups all across the country are coming together to look at where we wish to direct our care and attention. Looking at the multitude of ills that are overtaking us, but through the prism of corporatism, might provide profound and accessible insights.

What really hit me on the way home was that the Occupy Movement is really protesting the very things that the Tea Party protested at its inception. At its core, people in both groups are unhappy with economic injustice. But since the Occupy Movement is not sponsored by the Koch Brothers and Fox News, it might be a force for the common good. The unfolding process, the opportunity for understanding, the as-of-yet unknown solutions, and the resulting community could be the impetus for the change we need. Here's hoping Occupy doesn't get co-opted.