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Occupy Orlando-Free at Last?

By Jerry Waxman

Mother, PLEASE!  I’d rather do it myself!

This has been a pretty full four day weekend for the activist community in Orlando. Celebrating Martin Luther King’s birthday took the wind out of the sails of other activities which should have been included in the festivities because the cause of freedom and equality is directly related to today’s activism. First activity of note was the press conference on Friday, Jan 13 at 10:00 AM by State Reps Darren Soto and Scott Randolph who have introduced HAR 1337, a bill which would allow for vacant Orange County Commission seats to be decided by local elections rather than by appointment from the Governor.

The most recently elected commissioner from District Three, Mildred Fernandez, was removed by then Governor Charlie Crist on alleged charges of corruption. Crist appointed her opponent, Lu Damiani to the post as a babysitter until the results of Fernandez’s trial proved her innocence or guilt.  From all reports Orange County Mayor was satisfied with Damiani and the commission even drew up redistricting plans which favored his election chances. District three is heavily Hispanic and much of that growth has happened since the last redistricting ten years ago. The Black, Latino and Hispanic Alliance, now renamed The Alliance for Justice had been lobbying hard to form a minority district so that their members would have a constant voice on the commission, but to no avail. The new district now has less Hispanics than it did before. Once Fernandez pleaded no contest to the charges the Governor stepped into action and declared to Mayor Jacobs that he wanted a Republican in the seat. Commission seats are supposed to be non-partisan. John Martinez, son of former U.S. Senator Mel Martinez was chosen over Republican Hispanic candidates who actually lived in the district. The Alliance for Justice and Occupy Orlando demonstrated vehemently at Martinez swearing in ceremony.

At a recent bi-partisan County Watch meeting Martinez was guest speaker, telling the assembled about how he was appointed, confirming Governor Scott’s statement that he wanted a Republican in that seat. Picking Martinez over other candidates from the community was a move to shore up support from the still powerful South Florida Cuban community for Scott’s reelection bid in 2014. Outside the meeting members of The Alliance for Justice were protesting vowing never to accept him as their commissioner.

HAR 1337 would end these kinds of appointments and allow for special local elections in the district. Here’s the full video of the press conference and a follow up interview with Trini Quiroz, one of the founders of the Alliance.

Chalk up another win!

 

Occupy Orlando stalwart, Tim Osmar showed that you can beat City Hall, and in doing so you can humiliate city officials and law enforcement in general. Osmar’s release from jail made both national and international headlines when news services picked up the article in the Orlando Sentinel. Osmar was arrested for writing on City Hall sidewalks in chalk. There is a city ordinance against sidewalk chalking for advertising and promotion, which Mayor Dyer ignored two years ago when he encouraged local business owners to promote The Orlando Magic’s chances in the NBA Playoffs by chalking their sidewalks among other ways to promote the team. Orlando Sentinel Columnist Scott Maxwell

made mention of it in his January 12 article. Osmar missed the holidays spending three weeks in jail instead. He was released and charges dropped because the city contended that he would have served that time if convicted. The real reason is that there’s no way the city could have made those charges stick. Tim’s position is that he was exercising his first amendment right to protest and that his rights were violated both by the police and his overlong incarceration. Tim’s attorney, Richard Wilson, a prominent first amendment specialist is sharpening his fangs and whetting his appetite to put the city in federal court for the abuse that Tim and a few others have suffered. Other occupiers who have been arrested on trespassing charges are expecting to have the charges dropped or be found innocent as well. Once Tim was released Crayola’s stock should have gone up by 5 or 6 points. His release opened the floodgates for occupiers to state their grievances over every square inch of walkable surfaces at City Hall.

A scheduled action for the afternoon by the Direct Action team was to occupy the former site of Occupy Orlando, Senator Beth Johnson Park which houses the Orlando Chamber of Commerce, which they consider to be a wholly owned subsidiary of the city of Orlando. The Chamber sits on city owned land and pays by special arrangement $1.00 per year for rent. Research shows that the relationship between the city and the Chamber goes far beyond the landlord-tenant relationship. Traditionally, local chambers do have good relationships with cities they are in and they should. Governments should work for the economic benefit of all residents and businesses in their constituencies, but they have to draw the line about where that stops, especially where taxpayer dollars are being used without any perceivable benefit to taxpayers as a whole. City Commissioner Robert Stuart and Chamber bigwig Jacob Stuart are brothers. In a city the size of Orlando that’s not unusual. What is unusual is the way the Chamber is set up as several different entities that receive money from the city that does not get spent to better the economic situation of the city itself. Recently, mayoral candidate Michael Cantone criticized the giving of $63,000.00 in city funds ostensibly for an “entrepreneurial academy” is a blatant attempt to get Chamber support for his reelection. Also, on January 10 the Orlando Business Journal reported that Central Florida Workforce may have given the Chamber a questionable and maybe illegal donation of a $300,000.00 gift to promote “economic development”. Critics say that this is nothing more than funneling PAC money to Chamber friendly politicians such as Mayor Dyer, Dean Cannon, Chris Dorworth and others. A few years ago this might have gone under the radar but today with all of the communications and networking sites available very little is going to avoid scrutiny and the occupiers and activists are keenly aware of this. It would be asking too much of Florida’s Attorney General to investigate this because she’s too busy firing good prosecutors. Eric Holder on the other hand seems to be finding his mojo recently so there may yet be hope that these shenanigans might be curtailed.

When you see me coming better step aside

So, freshly armed with “The Chalk Conspiracy” exoneration, the intrepid direct action team showed up at the Chamber and proceeded to chalk up the entrance to the chamber while chanting their disapproval. The protest went along until a Chamber employee called the Police. The first policeman was good natured about it, however the second to arrive was as arrogant as could be and deliberately sped into the Chamber parking lot just missing an occupier. He stopped short and admonished the young man saying (sic) “Get out of my way when you see me driving up!” He then spent the rest of his time talking with the chamber people and his superior. If anyone wants to delve more deeply into Mr. Macho’s act here’s a picture of his car:

We were not able to photograph his badge number or name but this should be a good starting point. The other policeman had a much cooler head and kept his cool. The decision was to let Occupy Orlando protest on the sidewalk leaving space for people to walk by. The reason given was that some female employees felt threatened by the occupiers. That did not go over well with the occupiers or the representatives of the Florida Civil Rights Association who were there to observe. In response the hero of the day Tim Osmar mic checked the group and started a Hokey Pokey routine where the group tested the limits of their patience. After a few more minutes of protest the group felt that it had accomplished its mission it was time to go back to City Hall and get signage ready for the MLK Parade in Orlando.

A small boy walked down a city street, and hope was in his eyes. As he searched the faces of the people he’d meet, or one he could recognize.

Although the official celebration for Martin Luther King Day is Monday, January 16, several celebrations take place over the weekend. Two of these events, parades, take place in Orange County: one in Orlando and one in the city of Eatonville. Activists from Occupy Orlando and the Florida Civil Rights Association, Central Florida AFL-CIO, the Orange County Democrats and UCF College Democrats participated in both celebrations. There were 109 entries in the parade representing schools, fraternities, city and county agencies, fraternities, sororities, African American churches and politicians of every stripe. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orlando City Commissioner led off the parade. Not to be outdone, Orange County Government, led by County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, put together a large float reminiscent of Animal House. State Senator Gary Siplin and District 5 School Board member Kat Gordon both took part. Next in line was US Congresswoman Corrine Brown. Bringing up the rear were Public Defender Bob Wesley, Tax Assessor candidate Rick Singh, Orange County Democrats with new chairman Scott Randolph, Belle Isle Commissioner Lydia Pisano, former Congressman Alan Grayson, and State Attorney candidate Jeff Ashton.

Brother, where are you? They told me that you came this way. Brother, where are you?
They said you came this way.

What was notable about the parade was who didn’t march. There wasn’t any organized effort by the LGBT community to participate. This seems awfully odd given that the city which sponsors the event and the mayor have recently passed a domestic partners registry that benefits the entire LGBT community. There are many reasons to disagree with the mayor’s agenda but this is not one of them. Martin Luther King was about equality for all regardless of race, religion, and gender or lifestyle choice and (to me) it is an absolute offense to his memory that they did not participate. They certainly know how to stage and handle their own parades and events when they want to. This should have been a no-brainer. Another group notable for its absence is the Jewish community. No other ethnic group in history faced both slavery and wholesale extermination and the Jewish community should have a rock solid affinity with the preaching of Dr. King which transcends religion. Sixty years ago the Jewish community was at the forefront of the Civil Rights movement and many of them gave their lives in that pursuit. Since Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath it is perfectly understandable that there were no marchers, but that doesn’t prevent Jewish organizations from enlisting the help of other organizations and churches to carry the banners for them. In orthodox communities there is always the resident “goy” who turns on the electricity or lights the gas and performs any work task that needs to be done. The newly formed Alliance for Justice had some individual members marching with other groups but there was no show of numbers. If they are protesting their treatment by county government they need to show that they have sufficient numbers and this was a prime opportunity. Same goes for the Asian and Muslim communities.

Other than Coca Cola corporate America had no representation. Neither Disney, Universal nor the Chamber, whose members willingly take our money, took advantage of the day to give back something. Kudos to the unions that did participate, but noticeably absent were the Teachers, and the Trades in any significant numbers. There are over 70,000 union members in Central Florida. There are over 30,000 employees, both union and non-union, involved in Public Education in Orange County alone. All of these people are under fierce attack by radical conservative legislators at state and federal levels yet it seems that they won’t speak up for themselves when they have a prime opportunity to do so. The Republican Party had no representation, nor did any white churches who should at least have some kind of ecumenical policy for events like this. Fortunately for all concerned very little media attention was paid to the event. Sunday’s Sentinel had one picture with a small caption buried on page 3 in the B section. The Highland Games got better coverage. The TV stations gave perhaps 15 seconds of air time to the event. Perhaps the organizers should reach out to more people for next year’s parade.

If non participation was the order of the day on Saturday it was partially made up for on Sunday evening when Shiloh Baptist Church held a multi-faith service attended by almost every ethnicity and faith. Mayor Dyer, to his credit, spoke of the need to practice those principles espoused by Dr. King every day. Keynote speaker the Rev. Jim Coffin repeated the sentiments espoused by every other speaker and added “The disparity between rich and poor is no less than it was in his day. We are just as willing to resort to war as we were when he was alive. …In other words, we still have a lot of ground to cover before darkness is dispelled and light reigns supreme.” It seems that we as a society still have a lot to learn and far to travel. Dr. King’s work has barely begun.

 

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, but I have promises to keep,
and miles to go before I sleep……………… and miles to go before I sleep.

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5 responses »

  1. Thanks ,good summary of many events and to some that i missed.

    Reply
  2. Great account of events john, didn’t have the opportunity to see this til now, we the citizens appreciate it and please keep up the good work!

    Reply
  3. Sorry Jerry!

    Reply
  4. Trini quiroz

    Jerry…you are the Best!

    Reply
  5. GREETINGS Jerry miss your work…come back from “vacation” asap!

    Reply

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