Visiting "Occupy Tampa"
A few weeks ago, in about the middle of November, I ended-up traveling to Florida. It was great timing. After a couple of weeks of living in my tent in a park in down-town Toronto, as part of the "Occupy Toronto" movement, heading-out south to a warmer climate was certainly appreciated.
Knowing that I was flying in and out of Tampa, I thought I would check the net to see if there was an “Occupy” group set-up there. The “Occupy Movement” has sprung-up in over nine-hundred cities world-wide this fall and I had a feeling I would get lucky – I always do.
I found their website “Occupy Tampa” (http://www.occupytampa.org/) with ease and that gave me their location in Tampa, Florida. That is basically all I needed. I decided that I would go to visit them and spend a little time there. At “Occupy Toronto”, there were people who came to visit from “Occupy Wall St.” and “Occupy Minnesota”. I found that to be very inspiring: occupiers visiting each other. After all, we are working in solidarity with every other “Occupy” group on this planet.
On the 13th of November, 2011 I had some emotions and even second-thoughts about wandering around Tampa, looking for the occupiers … I really did not know what to expect. I had heard of rumbles in Oakland and Portland. I knew there were scuffles in Manhattan. I knew I was no longer in Canada, where most police officers just consider themselves a deterrent because they wear the blue uniform – in reality, they really want no trouble.
When I got by the Children’s Museum downtown Tampa, it was the middle of the afternoon and it was quite hot. Within minutes of my arrival at "Occupy Tampa", I found myself playing a game of kick-ball with some of the people there. I had no clue what the game involved but I saw a soccer ball and since I was wearing my Romanian soccer jersey, I thought it would give it a try. In a few minutes I had to take the jersey off: I was boiling and I couldn't help thinking how nice they were having it by not needing to wear layers of cloths like we did in Toronto.
Kick-ball turned-out to be base-ball with a soccer ball and instead of hitting the ball with a bat you kick it with your foot. The game was supposed to be between members of “Occupy Tampa” and officers from the Tampa Police Department but the Police Department failed in sending their team and so they lost due to a no-show. The game nevertheless took place under the careful watch of a police helicopter which kept circling the park from above, for quite a while. My team lost; probably because I was there and I really don’t know much about base-ball (or kick-ball).
After the game, I actually had a chance to talk to people and start getting an idea of how things were at “Occupy Tampa”. Unlike “Occupy Toronto”, in Tampa occupiers do not have a permanent safe space. There is a curfew in place so that after ten o’clock at night, they are not allowed to be in the park. If they are found in the park, they get arrested for trespassing. And if they sit on the sidewalk, that is seen as them obstructing the flow of people walking by. After ten o’clock, there begins a game of cat and mouse between the occupiers and police officers.
What I saw, in my opinion was just plain harassment on the part of the police department towards the people at “Occupy Tampa”. One occupier told me that: “"The TPD continually returns throughout the night, waiting for the moment when they can find any property 'unattended,' as not specified under ordinance 22-8 to their disclosure, so they can--stressing enough as they repeat--load it up into a truck and take it away."
I stayed with the people on the sidewalk until roughly three o’clock in the morning when someone there offered me a ride back to my hotel. The mood was tense a couple of times when police officers arrived on the scene. The K-9 Unit was also around and that never makes me feel too good. There were no arrests, no problems really but the Police Department was clearly putting-on a show of force. I was ultimately told that they did that every night.
It still amazes me how police officers can just use the “it’s my job” excuse to do all sorts of nasty things to people. The people at “Occupy Tampa” were fully peaceful and polite. They did not seem to be bothering anyone. Overall, they were there speaking about many of the same grievances which we speak of here at “Occupy Toronto”. There are common issues to be addressed regarding the electoral system, lobbying, tuition costs, minimum wage, military spending, environmental issues, etc.
That is why the “Occupy” movement is important: it keeps the conversation going. Everyone needs to get involved in discussing and proposing ways to better our socio-political system. From “Occupy Tampa” to “Occupy Toronto” and every other “Occupy” group out-there, actions have been taken which have changed the course of time and they cannot be undone. There is much to do still – this is just the beginning.
Thank you for having me over “Occupy Tampa”! Keep the Spirits up, much love!