Over 1,000 people—Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Conservatives, Liberals, and nearly every denomination between Yin and Yang—gathered by the symbolic Friendship Torch in front of Bayfront Park, on Saturday, October 15th to form a unified, primal cry for social, political, and economic equality. Miami, meet the Occupy Movement.
The rally officially began at 1:30pm when protesters began flooding the sidewalks in front of Biscayne Boulevard. Their signs read, “People over profits!” “Worker’s rights are human rights,” and, “Honk if you’re broke.” One protester, in a clever mock of the Jay-Z single ’99 Problems’, held up a sign that read, “I got 99 problems, but being rich ain’t one.” Many of the protesters sported Guy Fawkes masks, made famous by the popular V for Vendetta movie. Others had one dollar bills taped over their mouths to symbolize corporations’ ability to stifle the voices of ‘the people.’ By about 2:30pm, the area in front of the Ponce De Leon statue was packed with over 400 people, and more pouring in by the minute, according to a police estimate. Most were there for the cause, others solely to witness their first protest, and some just curious onlookers, soaking up the high energy scene. The protest persisted peacefully with no reported arrests, unlike the mother movement in New York which boasted 19 arrests during its first week. At about 3:30pm, to the loud tones of conch shells and the repeated chant, “We are the 99%”, protesters began marching towards the Miami Dade Government Center, where the general assembly meeting was to take place.
Once at the Government Center, the scene was more reminiscent of a 1960s “happening” on the hills of San Francisco, than a modern day demonstration against the evils of capitalism and corporate greed. People beat on their djembes and bongos. Some danced. A small crowd gathered around a guitarist and a saxophonist, singing along to the chorus of, “Give Peace a Chance,” with the word “change” substituted for “peace.” After about an hour, the crowd began to settle down and the organizers were able to conduct their general assembly meeting sans celebratory orgy.
Those participating in the general assembly meeting sat down on cardboard boxes and sleeping bags, fanning themselves out behind the bus stops. The ‘human microphone’ tactic was employed, where those sitting closest to speaker echo whatever is said to ensure that the majority of the people hear the message. This was done in an act of solidarity towards the demonstrations in New York, where the use of megaphones and other amplification devices were banned in Zucotti Park (where the whole movement began) by local legislators. The meeting was held as a ‘leaderless’ assembly, with the more seasoned organizers acting solely as facilitators. Some protesters, calling themselves “stacks”, walked around jotting down the names of those who wished to speak in the meeting. The topics discussed were mostly logistical issues; for example, deciding where to set up their tents for those who wished to stay overnight and ‘occupy’ (they finally agreed on the grassy area behind the Government Center building).
Some protesters divided themselves up in to several service groups. One group focused on handling the media, another on arts and culture, and yet another on logistics. Those who were trained in nursing and medicine set up a medical tent to provide treatment if worse came to worst and protesters got injured. Lissette Miller, an International Studies major from the University of Miami, stood up and insisted on establishing an, “anti-drug, anti-alcohol, and anti-violence” policy towards the occupiers. “If people are just lighting up and getting drunk, it delegitimizes the movement. That’s not what we’re here for.” Some representatives from a kindred organization, Food Not Bombs, an organization whose aim is to provide free food for the homeless, volunteered to provide food services for those planning on occupying. The protesters were grateful, and insisted, “Homeless people will get the priority.”
The organizers were satisfied with the way things turned out the first day. A protester calling himself ‘Just Joe’, said, “We’re satisfied with the way the meeting turned out today. A little chaos is expected on the first try, but we’re confident things will get tighter as the days go by.” When do they plan on leaving? “When things change.”