On Saturday afternoon, between 100 and 200 local activists met at the Torch of Friendship in Bayfront Park to vent their anger. Anger at what? The litany included corporate greed, cuts to education, the bank bailouts, the Federal Reserve, unemployment, industrial agriculture, Rick Scott, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, rising health care costs, the two-party system … on and on.
The leaderless collective is taking a cue from Occupy Wall Street, an ongoing protest against corporate influence on U.S. politics (among other things) headquartered in the heart of the Lower Manhattan Financial District. That occupation has garnered international headlines due in large part to goonish NYPD police tactics, including the gratuitous, indiscriminate emptying of mace canisters directly into the faces of raucous but non-violent protesters. (See the now-infamous “Peppergate” video.)
The purpose of the first Occupy Miami gathering was not only to air grievances — though, as you will see in the video below, there was plenty of that — but also to channel the activists’ disparate anger toward a specific end. This was both a proactive aim and a reactive one: The New York Times and other major outlets have depicted Occupy Wall Street as a carnival, a ragtag collection of hippies, naifs, and drifters (geographic, philosophic) whose sole purpose in protesting is to protest. The Occupy Miami folk clearly wanted to avoid getting a similar reputation.
Toward that end, the assembly broke up into groups of 15 or so to discuss the proverbial brass tacks. I sat in with a few groups and found the discussions slowly progressing from nebulous venting — “Can you imagine if we all pulled our money from the banks at once? That would be crazy!” — to concerted strategizing. In the end, there was no multi-point manifesto, but there were three committees (Media, Mobilization, Education), general agreement that Government Center is ripe for an occupation, and a scheduled follow-up meeting: next Saturday, same time and place.
It would be all too easy to mock this initiative: there was, after all, five minutes of mediation led by a man dressed all in white who showed up with a container of mixed greens. There was, too, an astrologist who put forth her career as an astrologist as a credential. There were Nutri-Grain bars.
But there were also well-articulated frustration and sincere willingness to do something to change our country’s teetering political and economic framework. There was a turnout that represented Miami’s various ethnicities and spanned at least three generations. There was, flourishing there under the punishing Miami sun, hope. In a deeply cynical world, that is the essential first ingredient for positive change.
My two cents: Instead of rushing to hoist Occupy Wall Street’s banner, Occupy Miami should focus on a local issue with national resonance. Overdevelopment seems the obvious choice to me. How about occupying one of the scores of empty condo buildings crowding our shoreline? Or Herald Plaza, the future site of Genting’s gaudy Resorts World Miami? In my opinion, both are far more potent symbols of Miami’s folly than Government Center, the attempted occupation of which our Boys in Blue are probably well prepped for.
Enough out of me. Here are several would-be occupiers explaining why they attended the gathering on Saturday. An important pre-viewing note: The deployment of jazz hands (aka “tinkle fingers”) signifies agreement with and support of the speaker’s gist.