On December 9, 2011, a small group of fellow Occupy Tampa people and I headed toward Orlando to attend the People's Convention of Florida. When we arrived three hours later--due to bumper-to-bumper traffic in Tampa--there was a small but spirited General Assembly (GA) of about 30 people from various Occupations across the state, including Space Coast, Gainesville, Daytona Beach, and Key West, among others.
GA ran relatively smoothly, compared to the fits and starts at the Occupy Tampa GA. Occupy Orlando reached consensus on moving from Senator Beth Johnson Park to the plaza at City Hall for the weekend event. A proposal regarding practical matters and the maintaining of a public space during the holiday season resulted in a debate, with three speaking for and three speaking against, following GA protocol designed by the Indignados and adopted by Occupy Wall Street. Occupy Tampa does not use this method and instead opts to take indefinite stack that terminates based only on the facilitator's judgment about when to conduct a temperature check. Someone called Quilt made a provocative argument that Occupants must choose between spending time with family and "changing the world," by which he meant Occupying a public space in Orlando. His point met general disapproval, but I personally thought people indeed do have to make a decision between yuletide fires, holiday ham, and extended travel and holding down the proverbial fort. Perhaps he should have invoked less soaring rhetoric.... In any case, I gave him a twinkle* despite widespread grumbling.
Speaking of Quilt, I also met someone called Scraper on Friday night. Aliases abounded at PCF. I met people called Sundrop, Sargent, Major, Captain, and Scuzzy. It is possible , but not probable, that these are actual names. Theirs might be a wise example to follow in this age of police state surveillance, with unmanned Predator drones serving local law enforcement to capture misdemeanor cattle rustlers in North Dakota (story found here: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-drone-arrest-20111211,0,72624,full.story ). I am still one of the recklessly naive, using my real name and combining my activism with my other publicly available details, but I fully support caution and anonymity among my comrades.
GA adjourned until Saturday morning, and I heard word that several members of Occupy Tampa were hosting an inaugural ball, so we relocated to the party, handing out flyers, brandishing signs, and chanting along the way. What a night...
Saturday dawned only an hour after the party wound down. Luckily, I'm a morning person, but the same cannot be said for most of my colleagues.We eventually made our way to Orlando City Hall for PCF.
Various working groups were formed to create lists of demands. These groups included Environment, Labor, Electoral Reform, Education, Banking and Foreclosure, Taxation, Florida Inter-Occupation Coordination, Human Rights, and Infrastructure/Public Transit. Members were encouraged to switch between groups at will. Each group painstakingly worked on a list of demands well into the afternoon. The goal was to present these lists to the GA on Sunday, thereby formulating a cohesive People's Plan. What struck me about these groups was how well-informed the members were. I started off in Labor but ended up in Environment, both about which I know shamefully little. Undoubtedly I would have been able to contribute more to Human Rights (Nonetheless, they did fine without my input, as revealed by their finished demands located on various sites online). The Environment Group was impressive in its knowledge of specific legislation and business practices detrimental to the Florida ecosystem. Another noticeable trait of these discussions was the feminist nature of them. All voices were heard. When I voiced a concern about the term "fishing areas," the group modified the language to accommodate my moral opposition to species imperialism without compromising the goal of the demand that referred to the aquatic biosphere in the first place. No one talked over another, and all input was valued.
Saturday was also an International Human Rights Day of Action, so a march of unions and other allies joined us at City Hall in the early afternoon. The Central Labor Council president, representatives from the AFL-CIO, the founders of Florida Recovery Rights, and other activist groups addressed the crowd of a few hundred, 25 of which were from Occupy Tampa. Each speaker was allotted a couple of minutes. Although some struggled with the reflexive apparatus of the People's Mic, overall the speakers were a success. A member of Occupy Tallahassee was a particularly engaging orator. He incited the crowd to join a march to deliver the People's Plan to the Florida legislature on January 10th.
Sunday was a challenge. The itinerary stated the day would commence at 8 and the GA beginning at 8:30. As an unrepentant morning person, that was no problem for me. However, my experience with conferences, as well as activists, made me doubt the practical application of such an ambitious hour. Everyone knows that people at conferences get extremely inebriated on Saturday night, making a pre-8am rise time a practical impossibility. Our small group ventured to city hall about 9am to find five other Occupants dispersed throughout the plaza. I sat with Occupy Melbourne, who began discussing the Federal Reserve, their Occupation, and the difficulties of differing political ideologies in an (allegedly) apolitical movement. My little envoy had to leave just as the GA finally started at 11:30am, but no one worried about leaving the decision-making to those who were able to stay. There was a general air of respect and cooperation for the duration of the convention. It was a beautiful thing.
For more about the People's Convention of Florida, please visit http://www.peoplesconventionofflorida.org/.
*Hand gesture indicating agreement and/or applause