January 10, 2012
Occupy the Florida Legislature: First Day of Session
I spent a couple of days last Christmas backpacking with my sweetie and our most wonderful offspring in Myakka River State Park. I love the complexity of the texture of the live oaks draped with Spanish moss. It is always a treat to spend a little time in the wilderness. But for the last two days, for the first time in my life, I camped in the heart of a city. Hosted by Occupy Tallahassee and joined by Occupiers from all over Florida, I pitched my tent in Tallahassee not three blocks from the State Capitol Building. Occupy Florida was planning an action to coincide with the opening day of the 2012 legislative session. Today, January 10, Occupiers from Key West to Pensacola and everywhere in between occupied the Capitol. Occupy Florida first marched up Gaines Street chanting and drumming. Chants of "People Over Profits", "Banks Got Bailed Out, We Got Sold Out", "Pink Slip, Rick Scott", and "Whose Capitol? Our Capitol" rang out through the streets and outside the State House in Tallahassee. We went through metal detectors as we entered the Capitol Building. The personnel in charge were efficient and cordial and had no trouble with our entourage, which included many signs, a service dog, and a service bicycle. We were denied access to the viewing galleries of the House and Senate Chambers. Despite this, we toured the rest of the Capitol en masse. We were a presence that could not be ignored.Inside, our chants included calls for "Money For Books and Education, Not for Bombs and Devastation, Not for Banks and Corporations", "Solidarity", and of course the constant refrain of "Mic Check" to get everybody's attention. Perhaps this is why we were not allowed in the viewing galleries, even as others were allowed entry. This is the first day of session, and if the Florida Legislature was bound by the same sunshine laws that apply to other Florida officials, they would not be able to bar citizens from their meetings. In contrast, Occupy General Assemblies and actions are transparent, very much in the public view. And today we wanted to be heard. As we first arrived inside the Capitol Building, we gathered in the lobby rotunda and soon entered into a heart-felt version of "Solidarity Forever".While waiting for Representatives, Senators, and the Governor to leave and arrive, Occupy Florida lined the entryway to the House Chambers. Knowing that our representatives would be walking by, we took turns reading the proclamation that the People's Convention had approved for presentation today. The people's microphone carried the message at high volume. Video version here. Text version here. Most of our representatives did not pay much attention as they passed through the crowd. But one treated the Occupiers as a receiving line, going down the line shaking each person's hand. Representative Mark Pafford (D-West Palm Beach) came out and encouraged Florida Occupiers to speak loudly enough that they could be heard in chambers.Immediately following the request for sufficient volume to be heard in chambers, security personnel made it clear that the whole group would be kicked out of the building if they were loud enough to be heard in chambers. The people's microphone was turned down to a lower volume setting. After Governor Scott made his entry, Occupy Florida participated in the Awake the State rally in front of the capitol. There were community groups from around the state in attendance. Occupiers from Florida State University and FAMU arrived in time to rally. The speakers addressed the issues of the Occupy Movement and many of them addressed the Occupiers as well. Representative Alan Williams (D-Tallahassee) was one of two representatives to tell the crowd that the Florida Occupiers could be heard in chambers and that Governor Scott had indeed heard them.