On Saturday, delegations from St. Pete, Lakeland, Sarasota, Bradenton, and Tampa converged on Lykes Gaslight Park in downtown Tampa. Occupy Tampa had felt a need to do some planning for the Republican National Convention (RNC), which is slated to gallop into Tampa for a few days at the end of August. Several groups are actively engaged in planning for this over-sized opportunity to attract media attention. So far, I know of Resist The RNC, Occupy The RNC, and March On The RNC, along with the official RNC itself. Within minutes of arriving at the Regional Gathering, I had gathered that although these separate groups are each coordinating strategy, tactics, and logistics for the RNC, they may not be coordinating with each other. And, at the moment, they are tight-lipped about their plans. There are other reasons to hold a regional get-together and after the "Meet And Greet", we broke into smaller groups to discuss the possibilities.
Upon our arrival, Food Not Bombs was on the scene serving a vegan lunch to all attendees. In Sarasota, the thoughtful Food Not Bombs crew has served the hungry during a number of the weekly Occupy rallies. I recognized Katie, who had been active with Occupy Tampa and is now volunteering with Food Not Bombs. I have met many people for whom the Occupy Movement has been a conduit, connecting their sense of injustice and disillusionment with a local activist group that stirs their passion. Like the Occupy Movement, Food Not Bombs is composed of volunteers who are dedicated to nonviolent, societal change. Like Occupy, each local group is autonomous. Like Occupy, there are no leaders and they involve everybody in the decision-making process. And like Occupy, Food Not Bombs supports protests organized by others. With that in mind, it is no surprise that they have decided to have an international convention in Tampa, during the week leading up to the RNC. Undoubtedly, there will be many more groups calling for a national march on the RNC.
At prior state-wide and regional gatherings, folks spent hours deciding the meeting processes that would be used. HOURS! Would we use consensus or super-majority voting? How would we decide on an agenda? Nine months into the Occupy Movement, and these folks have learned from past experience. It only took a few minutes to decide on "house rules". We would follow the rules used by the hosting Occupation. There was even some discussion about learning from prior mistakes. Acknowledging organizational and ideological difficulties and a willingness to share lessons learned are surely marks of maturity.
First on the agenda were announcements. I was not fully aware of the depth of activity nearby. Occupy Tampa is producing a TV show. Occupy Daytona has started a radio show. Occupy Tampa is starting a street theatre group. The OccupPlayers from Bradenton, who performed at the WSLR radio station in Sarasota a couple of months ago, is planning a performance in St. Pete and will make themselves available as requested by other locations. And for those holdouts who still like to read, there is an Occupied Tampa Tribune.
The General Assembly whipped through a number of proposals. All attained consensus, but one. The Tampa Region stands in solidarity with the student protesters in Quebec. The Tampa Region will hold a General Assembly at different locations, every two weeks, until the RNC. A most interesting proposal was brought forward to put out a National Call To Action Against Bain Capital. The actions would take place all over the country on the day Mitt Romney accepts the Republican presidential nomination. There is something almost romantic about this idea. Romney continues to receive a passive profit share and interest in Bain Capital investment funds. Bain Capital always made a profit even when the companies they bought went under, even when many workers lost their jobs, their pensions, and their healthcare. Such vulture capitalism is the poster child for what's wrong with how our economic system functions. What better time to highlight these cold deficiencies than on the day of Romney's acceptance speech.
A recurring concern voiced at the Gathering was dwindling participation. Leslie from Occupy Tampa was curious and concerned about attendance at other Occupations. A local religious leader made a plea for presenting a clear and constant message about the profound issues of economic inequality. He is hoping for a format that will draw people in and get them involved. Jason, who is from Tallahasse but has been staying with Occupy Tampa for the last month, threw out a concrete suggestion to the General Assembly. How about renting a truck, covering it with sheets, projecting messages onto it, and driving through Ybor City on a Friday night. Go to where the people are and make a bold statement. Leslie volunteered to coordinate outreach efforts to help bring more people out to participate.
Soon after the General Assembly came to a close, folks made signs and marched around downtown in solidarity with the Quebec students. Students there had called for a tuition freeze. Nightly protests consisted of clanging noisy pots and pans in the streets. The students wore red felt squares to symbolize being financially in the red, crushed by debt. In Canada, as in the United States, tuition hikes are leading to increasing student debt. Even after almost 100 nights of protest, the students hadn't garnered much community support. But, when the government passed emergency legislation to limit students' right to assemble and protest, thousands of community members flooded the streets in support. As I understand it, the strike by the Quebec students is the longest and largest student protest in Canadian history. And yet their debt is small potatoes when compared with the $1 trillion in debt taken on by college students in the United States. In addition to marching in solidarity with Quebec students, folks here are motivated by the spiraling student debt in the United States. A jubilant procession from the Tampa Regional Gathering marched through downtown, banging pots and pans and wearing red felt squares.
Watch the proposals put forth during the General Assembly followed by the march in solidarity with the Quebec students.