Florida Occupy movement convenes in Orlando this weekend

On Thursday, December 1, over 100 members of the group left their General Assembly in Curtis Hixon and marched to nearby Riverfront Park, and declared that they intended to occupy that new park. But hours later Tampa police arrived on the scene and ordered everyone to leave. Twenty-seven people refused to depart and were arrested, as well as two others who were outside the park at the time.

Chief Castor told CL that the TPD's relationship with the protesters remains as clear as it has been since they took over a part of Curtis Hixon in October. "The rules are very simple as long as they're abided by," she said.

One element of the Occupy movement in Tampa that differs from many other such movements, from New York to the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond, is that the TPD has not once allowed tents to be put down in any park.

At Riverfront Park last week, Occupy protesters erected one such tent, knowing it was a provocative move. Chief Castor said that's always been a no-no.

"We have said from day one that there is not going to be any camping in the city parks, and we're sticking by that," she said. "If individuals, if part of their expression of the First Amendment is to be arrested, then we will accommodate that, but that is not our preference. Our preference is everyone follows the rules."

The fact that Tampa will host the Republican National Convention in less than nine months means that the Occupy Tampa movement will have legs of some sort throughout the new year. But interestingly, one longtime Washington D.C. political pundit says that the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, the following week could be just as volatile if not more so in terms of the social impact of the protests.

Stuart Rothenberg writes in Roll Call that though in his opinion the movement has "fizzled" and failed to become as politically potent as the Tea Party in last year's election cycle (maybe a premature declaration?), he does declare that it could "still be a factor," although how he's not certain. He thinks that protests in Tampa will be virtually de rigueur, but the Democratic Party's four-day convention could provide a better platform for protesters to voice the Occupy cause.

While the Occupy movement is likely to show up at the Democratic and Republican conventions in Charlotte and Tampa respectively, activists will potentially be more disruptive in Charlotte.

Republicans can easily dismiss the Occupy crowd as a bunch of radicals, and the more confrontational the protesters look, the better the Republican view will appear.

Democrats will be in an inherently more awkward position, because the party and the Occupy activists will be blaming corporations, the banks, Wall Street and the wealthy for taking advantage of the “little guy” and for refusing to pay their fair share.

The Democratic National Convention, of course, will be held in the Time Warner Cable Arena. The city’s football stadium, where President Barack Obama could give his acceptance speech, is Bank of America Stadium.

Charlotte is Bank of America’s corporate headquarters, along with Duke Energy and Goodrich, the former rubber and tire company that now calls itself “a global leader in the aerospace, defense and homeland security markets” on its website.

You get the picture. There will be plenty of opportunities and venues for OWS activists to make statements about the country — statements which could well make some Democrats very uncomfortable.

The Charlotte convention managers, the party’s Congressional leadership and, most importantly, the White House will have to figure out how to deal with Occupy Wall Street in a way that echoes some of the message without elevating the group and forcing the Democratic Party to either totally reject or embrace the OWS movement, and all that that includes.

It will be a delicate balancing act.

There were always going to be thousands of protesters in both Tampa and Charlotte next summer. How the Occupy movement affects those demonstrations will be something to watch out for, well in advance of those two week-long events in late August and early September of 2012.

Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor
  • Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor

Delegates from Occupy Tampa and across the state are meeting in Orlando this weekend for a statewide convention to develop what organizers are calling "The People’s Plan," a list of desired legislative changes to be delivered on the first day of the 2012 Florida legislative session.

More than 500 people are scheduled to attend the the three-day event, which begins today. The future of the Occupy movement is one of the principal items to be discussed.

Organizers say they will present "The People's Plan" to state legislators during the first day of the 2012 session, which begins on January 10.

Meanwhile, a week after 29 Occupy Tampa protesters were arrested — the largest number to be arrested in Tampa at one time — Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor says that she's okay with the current situation, which finds some activists sleeping on the sidewalk in front of Curtis Hixon Park every night.

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