Occupy Tampa: A Report Back
*Note: This report back was originally written right after Thanksgiving. But due to the urgency of the Occupy Philly evictions, it was held off for publication. Some of the following information is outdated. For example, 29 people were arrested last week in a police crackdown. As far as I know, daily General Assemblies and organizing efforts are still occurring. Visit www.occupytampa.org and search “Occupy Tampa arrests” for more information. (See photos at the bottom of page.)
I had the opportunity to visit the Tampa Occupation while visiting family and friends during Thanksgiving. While we in the North are concerned about the impending weather, folks in Tampa and surrounding areas are (at least for now) occupying under sunny skies and 70-degree temperatures. Too bad it couldn’t “always be sunny in Philadelphia.”
Tampa’s permanent encampment at this point is small in numbers. But the 10 or 12 permanent occupiers have been there day and night since October 17th and show great hope and enthusiasm for their efforts and the movement as a whole. Tampa’s occupation began at Gaslight Square in Downtown Tampa directly across from the Police Department. After a brief time there, the occupation was forced to move just a block or two further to the Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. At first glance this very large concrete-and-grass public space seems ideal. But the City has restricted all overnight occupiers to a 6ft-by-200ft concrete space and banned all tents. Occupiers are forced to sleep beneath tarps during rain. This situation reflects the contradictory and often backhanded approach of Mayor Bob Buckhorn. The Mayor has a taken a fairly friendly posture publicly, but has been less amicable on the ground. For instance, the occupiers are allowed to use the police station bathroom after 3pm (when the park bathroom closes). But at the same time, police make routine sweeps through the occupation multiple times a day, often confiscating basic materials (fliers, water, tarps, etc.).
Despite these challenges, Occupy Tampa holds daily General Assemblies at 7pm with about 50-60 participants. Their peak numbers reached about 2000 early on. The numbers are much lower now, but that could be due to the fact that other occupations have sprung up in surrounding areas (like St. Petersburg, which is right next door, as well as Ft. Myers, Orlando, Miami, Daytona Beach, and Ft. Lauderdale, which are further away). Occupy Tampa also plans to “take another park” on December 1st, hoping to exercise more of a demand on the City. Overall, Occupy Tampa is festive and feisty and ready for the long haul. They even challenged the City (the Mayor’s office and/or City Counsel?) to a friendly game of kickball! The City declined, of course, but it is representative of Occupy Tampa’s upbeat personality. It was a pleasure to spend a brief time speaking with them and getting to know their stories. Occupy Tampa!
Report back by Jason Del Gandio.