Economic Policy

Occupy Miami Ignites The Torch of Friendship

Introducing Occupy Miami – Nearly 200 activists, artists, and organizers made clear their intentions last Saturday, at the first #OccupyMiami organizational meeting. The new collaboration assembled to discuss problems facing the community at a local and national level- and subsequently global level- democratically deciding how to address such issues through direct action. The event was the first official meeting, after many of its members spent the previous days conceptualizing how to bring Miami into the effort in conversations that spanned ad-hoc video conferences, Facebook chats, and IRC.

The nationwide Occupy movement was inspired by the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protests which took over New York’s Zuccotti Park, aka “Liberty Square”, on September 17th. The idea, with heavy support from Adbusters, spread to cities from Boston, to Chicago, to LA and around the world, springing up with unprecedented velocity. The message is multifaceted, touching upon common grievances: money’s corrupting influence on politics and the resulting breakdown of hallowed democratic institutions. The symptoms become evident when we observe one of the highest income gaps in the developed world, and extended tax cuts for the wealthy forcing public services to face austerity measures and downsizing.

Local voices express their discontent: “We want the city made up of immigrants to be a sanctuary for all immigrants.”

Saturday’s meeting started by inviting open discussion in an emergent manner, allowing any individual to proclaim their reasons for attending. The bullhorn exploded with stories of single parents facing layoffs and unsure how to thrive in these upheaved times; alongside young people, unable to find work and lacking healthcare; to families who just want their children to grow up in a world without corporate sponsored wars. Downtown’s half-empty condo towers and developer-run prioritized projects echoed with the outcry against oppressive political tactics that now allow private banks to manage money the Federal Reserve prints out of thin air, all the while charging interest on it. This would serve as absurd art, were it not a symbol of the reality we all confront.

As Occupy Miami’s voices made clear, it is not difficult to see who elected officials work for these days, when banks cry insolvency and are handed $700 billion checks with carte blanche responsibility attached. Meanwhile, communities eke out an existence in grinding poverty. Somehow, most of our news sources believe this disparity doesn’t warrant so much as a mention. As the worldwide Occupy movements build momentum, the unheard voices come to the forefront. We are witnessing a time when the news is forced to facilitate that voice- proclaiming itself the “99%” of society cast aside by private interests. This 99% comprises their viewership, regardless of agendas and persuasions. Socialist, liberal, conservative or Tea Partier- all of these movements are finding their placement among the 99%, and, miraculously, they are finding Occupy to be a common ground upon which to march.

Occupy Miami broke up into intimate groups of 10 to 15 members for round-table discussions with the primary aim to derive a concrete list of the issues they cared the most about. In the process, they facilitated the essential components of direct action: personal interaction, breaking the ice, and forming bonds.

“We want an education system that teaches kids how to give back to their community.”

For many participants, this was their first time partaking in a democratic process. Those who summoned the courage to show up and speak out demonstrated that complacency is no longer an option, and that finding new and innovative solutions to regional, national, and global problems often involves leaving your comfort zone behind. For those who desire fast results, it was a wakeup call to realize that reaching a consensus while allowing for dissenting viewpoints requires patience, resilience, understanding, and communication- all in addition to marching and shouting from the rooftops. The harshest critic of a movement is the one who observes: “They are yelling about something, but I don’t think they know what it is.” Occupy Miami confronted these challenges with class, establishing its intentions before grabbing the megaphone.

“We will not pay for your illegal wars. This is our money, and we want it going to education.”

The decisions around the big issues that we face are conducted in secret, with corporations leveraging their out-sized power to directly write individual states laws becoming the norm. Our contemporary system ignores the grievances of its own Declaration of Independence, encouraging the gathering of “legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance”. Now, the Occupy movement asks the important question of our leaders: Why is this behavior acceptable?

There was open concern about how the mechanisms of direct democracy are often absent in our lives and processes. With ballooning campaign costs and a deluge of politicking leading up to each election for years at a time, politicians are left with no choice but to solicit donations that leave them beholden to special interests.

The mainstream media originally leveled accusations at the Occupy Wall Street protesters for lacking a cohesive, unified message. The same proved to be true here in Miami, as a number of issues were brought up throughout the day, from broad issues ranging from healthcare, revoking corporate personhood, ending foreign wars and occupations, immigration rights, and investments in clean energy; to hyper-local issues like public transportation, local organic farms, over-development, education reform, the dual-justice system, and the general sense that that public does not have any input as to what gets cut from the state budget.

In the end, however, what the MSM and opposition does not recognize is the unifying force behind this outcry: the public is fed its beliefs, and they’ve come to suspect those that have malnourished their awareness.

“Corporations have the most cash assets they’ve ever had since 1959, and they’re not hiring.”

Here in the Sunshine State, it would seem that Governor Rick Scott is waging a war on public workers, cutting $2 billion from the education budget, while increasing the budget for the governors office. These initiatives are instilled without a whiff of public input or a moments concern over his polling numbers. Florida is a microcosm of the nation as a whole, but these behaviors reflect the entirety of the issue: the majority voices are being ignored.

“There are many of us without health insurance, and we all deserve to be healthy.”

We are witnessing the onset of a movement that’s adding new members faster than it can bring them up to speed. As they educate the public, we are left to contemplate: if we agree with what they say, what is holding us back from helping it out? This is the kind of movement that is hungry for new leadership; new talents. On the forums, people are recommending groups and volunteering services like an open-source job fair.

Far from showing signs of slowing down, the Occupy Miami Facebook Group page has doubled its membership since the first meeting. A new generation, concerned about its future and potential outcomes, is waking up to realize that it can no longer remain complacent if it hopes to achieve sustainability.

Towards the end of the day, with the late afternoon sun sinking into the horizon and bathing the Torch of Friendship in golden light, those assembled divided once again, this time into three core groups. Each tackled the essentials for spreading the message:

1. Mobilization, focusing on logistics and tactics for direct action;

2. Media representation, facetiously dubbed the “Ministry of Propaganda and/or Truth”;

3. Education, tasked with creating arts, props, and visual branding elements to help inform, inspire, and get people involved.

Much care was taken to announce that any direct actions would not be antagonistic to the police, although the savvy crowd was familiar with the aggressive behavior that had been directed towards the protesters in New York, regularly cross posting updates from Occupy Wall Street.

The Media crew has its work cut out for it, as Miami is regularly portrayed as apathetic and materialistic, with Channel 4 news obliviously labeling the nascent movement “Hipsters by the Bay” in its coverage. There are those in the MSM who have been quick to prejudge a movement made up of ordinary folks who are not regulars to protests, and just want solutions to problems the government is not providing them.

This collaboration has caught Emerge Miami’s attention because it is putting into practice many of the core ideas comprising emergent behavior. By presenting broadly defined mission statements that allow for a variety of endeavors without rigid constraints, this movement strives to unify through common interest. Occupy Miami, and the Occupy Movement as a whole, strives to partner disparate groups that are functionally working toward conjoined goals.

Ultimately, these efforts facilitate community interaction through peaceful, creative, and informative ways. This movement depends on people of diverse ethnicities, political views, and age groups who want to build on this momentum to develop a model for a new society. One that pays more than just lip service to the idea of an experiment in participatory democracy.

Bruce Stanley