Some Occupy Orlando Members Stay after Drawing Weekend Crowd
October 17, 2011 | WMFE - Members of Occupy Orlando say their movement will continue indefinitely as a few dozen protesters continue to "occupy" an Orlando-area park. The local version of New York's Occupy Wall Street movement started Saturday, with about 1,000 people showing up for speeches, demonstrations and a peaceful march through downtown Orlando.
The chanting of protesters bounced off high-rise bank buildings in downtown Orlando, as the crowd streamed steadily down the sidewalks of Orange Avenue late Saturday morning. The march’s crescendo was a large but peaceful demonstration on the steps of City Hall after beginning and ending at Occupy Orlando’s base of operations – the park next to the Chamber of Commerce.
Many waved handmade signs with messages such as “The People are Too Big to Fail,” “Get Money out of Politics,” and “Livable Wages Now.” But the phrase seen and heard most often was “We are the 99%.” Protester Dennis is a Vietnam vet now pursuing a social work degree. He explains what the movement says is the plight of the 99%.
“They’ve been left on the vine to wither, while the 1 percent are enjoying the fruits of our labor,” he says. “It’s a big labor issue, really.”
Labor is indeed a major theme with demonstrators. Many signs expressed frustration over unemployment, along with what they’re saying is an unfair distribution of wealth, big bank bailouts, and other variations on mostly economic issues. University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith says money concerns are a big motivator here.
“There may be a number of students that are part of these movements who maybe have graduated from college in the last couple of years, and with the state of the economy and the labor market, find themselves with big student loan bills and no job by which to pay them,” explains Snaith.
Occupy Orlando volunteer and student Greg Copeland says it’s the jobs issue that brought him here.
“I want to see real solutions for jobs for Americans willing and able to work, instead of scapegoating it as Americans just wanting entitlement programs, when really we have a group of hardworking Americans willing and able to work hard without jobs right now,” he says.
Greg adds that many at the protest are employed, just underpaid. He extends that category to include the Orlando police officers that are out in force directing traffic and making sure things stay orderly.
“We’re going out of our way to thank the police,” says Greg. “Me and a friend of mine actually brought them water. They didn’t accept much of it, but we’re trying to keep an olive branch open with the police right now. They’re part of the 99% percent and we want them to realize that. And we’re on their side.”
And so far, it’s remained that way. There’s been little trouble between protesters and police, even as arrests escalate at the Occupy Wall Street encampment in New York that touched off the demonstrations worldwide. Here in Florida, this weekend also saw Occupy movements kick off in Tampa, Miami, and Tallahassee, among others.
UCF economist Sean Snaith says he understands the frustrations that sparked the protests, but in the end, Wall Street can’t be blamed for all our economic trouble.
“It’s diffuse. It’s not a single source,” says Snaith. “If we knew it was just Wall Street and we could get back to full employment and strong economic growth…I’ll march on Wall Street. But that’s not the source of our problem. I wish it was. I wish it was that easy. It’s always nice in the movies when there’s a bad guy and when he’s killed or captured, then it’s happily ever after. But it’s just not that simple.”
Things are getting a little complicated for Occupy Orlando, too. In order to keep the movement going past Saturday and avoid arrest, they have to move camp onto the sidewalk at the park’s 11pm closing time. But once on the sidewalk, city ordinance says they have to keep moving, so the demonstration goes on in shifts. Protesters take turns walking with signs and sleeping in their cars. Then they all return to the park at 6am when it opens.
A demonstrator calling herself Castro says many people are still planning to stay indefinitely, because it’s a core principal of the movement.
"I think the occupation would bring about a level of attention that mere gestures can’t make,” she explains. “The city doesn’t care if we march – to them it’s just us having a picnic. But for a real space to be occupied…if we challenge that on a daily basis, we can’t be ignored.”
The passion of the few dozen protesters left is clear, but how long the Occupy Orlando movement can keep going remains to be seen.