By Jerry Waxman
*Author’s Preface- I feel a little like Commander Minoru Genda, the Japanese architect of the air strike on Pearl Harbor. Genda was taken ill prior to the Battle of Midway and did not resume his duties until the conflict was about to begin. In his apology to Admiral Yamamoto he said “Please forgive me sir, I’ve been away from my duties for too long.” I feel the same way, that I’ve not been able to chronicle the events at Occupy Orlando on a day to day basis. Life gets in the way of even the best intentions. Business obligations, too full a schedule, family obligations, South Florida speaking engagements, loss of whatever muse inspires me, the State Democratic Convention (they’re lucky I haven’t reported on that fiasco yet) and sleep deprivation all have a part in it so please forgive me for not keeping you better informed. I shall try harder in the future.
As Day 26 wends its way into the history books it’s a good time to reflect on the progress that has been made, as well as the obstacles that have been presented. There have been two major marches on City Hall since October 15, both with over 1500 participants. Whatever local mainstream media coverage (and it is not much) there has been has been split between supportive and derogatory; actually it leans slightly more towards supportive. There are marches and actions all over the downtown area every day so that a headcount is virtually impossible at almost any time. On November 3 Awake the State officially joined the Occupation. Occupy Orlando joined with Working America, Jobs with Justice and other union organizations on November 4 demonstrating in front of US Sen. Marco Rubio’s Office for quick jobs action and handed in mock job applications. One of Rubio’s office staff, Byron Reid, to his credit took the time to accept the applications and address everyone who was there. People from occupy movements all over the northeast are now snow birding at Senator Beth Johnson Park. Occupation members began sitting in on official events such as the Legislative Update that was held here, Mayor Dyer’s shameless fundraising fiasco on the State of the Downtown (for which there was a $45.00 admission charge, City Hall chambers during commission meetings, and School Board redistricting and financial meetings. The faces of the officials showed real apprehension in some instances. If there were a thought balloon over their heads it would read “Goddamn Sunshine Law! How dare these ragamuffins take advantage of it!”
The impact is being felt. During the Tuesday afternoon School Board meeting there was an agenda item that called for a consent vote on extending current banking contracts with Bank of America and Wells Fargo for another four years. Traditionally, these contracts are for two years, but the super large banks are feeling the pressure of the “Move your money” action s across the country, so, greedy as ever they want longer extensions on the Board’s three billion dollar per year banking needs. The occupations objections influenced one board member, Vicky Bell, to object and the item was taken off the consent agenda. Bell was furiously Googling local banks in the area that could have the capacity to handle that much money. The item passed in a subsequent vote later in the evening, however, it was noted that there is a sixty day period in which the Board could change its mind and go elsewhere. It makes a lot of sense to keep Orange County taxpayer money in Orange County, or at least in the State of Florida. During the City Commission meeting Occupy Orlando pleaded for permission to occupy the park overnight, but Dyer denied them. These excursions will continue until Dyer gives in. Last evening the AFL-CIO Central Florida Labor Council voted unanimously to give its support to Occupy Orlando, offering to discuss sensitive issues with their union affiliates in the police force as well as City Hall union employees.
There have been a few obstacles, some of which have been overcome and some that will take a little more work and some that are just ongoing. During the first week Tom Trento’s United West hit squad were taking pictures and trying to spin the argument that Muslims were taking over the occupation. They were swiftly confronted and dealt with. They were told that they are welcome anytime they wanted to come and that they could not only share the food but talk to any individuals that wanted to talk to them. The Trento post eventually made it to Keith Olbermann’s Countdown program. They no longer come back. Central Florida Tea Party leader Tom Tillison in his Florida Political Press attempting to portray the occupation as disorderly and uncaring of others got it wrong and was exposed. There has been some contention among the assembled with many distinct opinions. The open forums and general assembly meetings are continuing to make very slow progress. City harassment will continue to be a sticky problem. Buddy Dyer’s steadfast determination to make life difficult for the park occupiers will continue to be a sticking point. Allowing the police to needlessly arrest 33 people in three separate incidents is not good form for the city. The arrests did not deter anyone, cost city taxpayers a lot of money, and prevented police officers from performing essential duties in their own districts. Most police officers privately will say that they support the 99% but they also have kids and mortgages and their job comes first. They would love to not have to deal with the occupation. Of course, there is always going to be the occasional rogue cop who loves the power rush and will overstep his authority and the occupation has seen them as well.
The November 5 day of action came off rather well. It was a cool day and the impending threat of rain did not deter the 1500 or more participants from taking the two and a half hour march around City Hall and back. Once back the open microphone started again and a bone of contention arose concerning a speech by Tea Party activist Matthew Falconer in a thinly veiled attempt to co-opt the event. It seems that the Tea Party has had an undercover plant since day one on the media team and every scrap of useful information has been fed back to them. According to media team sources Tom Tillison and Matt Falconer had a meeting off-site with two young and very naive members of the media team for the alleged purpose of joining forces toward a common goal. In reality it was a blatant attempt to either co-op the event or at least take a little steam out of it. In a scene straight out of The Godfather a third member of the team had set the meeting up. That member was also the one to invite Falconer to speak. The Orlando Sentinel mentions Matthew Falconer prominently in their Sunday article. The Tea Party had a field day on both Facebook and Twitter. You can go on Twitter and follow TPartyTom (Hmmmm, I wonder who that is?) and see what vicious remarks they’ve been bantering back and forth.
In a media team informational meeting Tuesday evening it was revealed that the undercover agent was Wilson Cox. Team member Ty identified Cox as someone who was always showing up at a protest on the other side for several years. It was Cox who arranged the off-site meeting and invited Falconer to speak. It was also reported that Tillison had been there Saturday sitting in his car so as not to draw attention. What the occupation does now with Cox is anybody’s guess. There were other disturbing matters to deal with. It was alleged that there have been a series of conference calls between mayors of many cities discussing effective ways of stopping the occupations. There are team members researching this for proof so that the cities and mayors can be publicly exposed. It was also alleged that there is a police surveillance team on one of the higher floors of the Doubletree Hotel which has a complete 24/7 view of the park and its goings on. There may be some truth to this and it is being checked out as well. The sources who gave out this information are usually pretty reliable.
All during the evening election results were coming in and being met with cheers at every announcement. One bright spot locally was the news that a Democratic candidate won the Mayoral election in Altamonte Springs against huge amounts of misinformation and tons of cash supplied by Chris Dorworth and his political cronies. At a subsequent GA Wednesday evening WePay was approved as a donation source and a donation of $100.00 was processed today. Contributors can go onto the website www.occupyorlando.org to donate and find out up to date information about all the things Occupy Orlando is planning. Also available is WePay’s direct donation page www.wepay.com/donate/occupyorlando.
After less than four weeks Occupy Orlando is doing just fine, dealing with the city’s restrictions and making headway every day. The event calendar is almost full and new actions are being added all the time. New teach-ins and trainings are being conducted. This phenomenon doesn’t appear to be either diminishing or going away, rather it is gathering up a head of steam for the advancement ahead. Tomorrow is Veterans Day and although most of these occupiers have never served in the military they still appreciate what our veterans have done for us. They will proudly march in the Orlando parade.
Epilog- Whew! That’s over with. Now maybe I can do my article on the Convention, or do a piece on Veterans Day or actually have dinner with my granddaughter tonight, or possibly even play tennis in the round robin tomorrow. That would be nice.