Occupy Orlando General Assembly, October 19th (Photo: OccupyOrlando, flickr)

Occupy Orlando General Assembly, October 19th (Photo: OccupyOrlando, flickr)

By Jerry Waxman

Something is rotten in the City of Orlando; the fish is rotting from the head down—all is not well at the top of the political hierarchy. With apologies to William Shakespeare  Hamlet Act I Scene 4

At some point on Wednesday the Police informed the occupiers that the tarps would have to be taken down. Up until that point they hadn’t bothered before but all of a sudden there was a change in attitude. Legal advisers warned them what the consequences are if they defy the orders. Senator Beth Johnson Park is a city owned park and the city has rules, regulations and ordinances that everyone, not just the occupiers, must comply with. One of the code provisions is that there can be no temporary structures erected on the premises, nor can any holes be dug, nor anything that could deface public property. If the code is violated the police could possibly trespass anyone or everyone in the park, which would force the occupiers to find another property. What the police can or will do may not be legal and could be thrown out of court, but that would take a long time. The Orlando Police have a history of violating the law as witnessed in the Food Not Bombs controversy, so they would have no qualms about arresting people without adequate cause. No consensus was reached Wednesday. The secret power source mysteriously turned itself off so the media team was forced to move across the street to a vacant lot and work from a generator and car batteries with power inverters. They still managed to livestream broadcast and get the word out. Here’s a link to the livestream broadcast.

Something happened overnight. When the police returned midday Thursday they were adamant about the tarps coming down. Apparently, earlier in the day there was a closed door meeting at City Hall and the City Attorney authorized the action. The policemen usually assigned to the area had been beefed up and a new leader, Lt. Laboo was introduced. He looks like he could be football star and actor Jim Brown’s twin brother and by his refusal to crack a smile and his menacing body language you could tell that he meant business. Mike Rhodes with Orlando Code Division was there as well. David Wasman of the Media Team met with them. It was a friendly meeting but the group was informed that the tarps must come down or else they would have to take action. Lt. Laboo stated that he would be back in two hours to insure compliance.

The meeting that followed was heated.  A very vocal minority wanted to defy the police. They were mostly the young ones. The more mature members pointed out that the tarps are not symbols of the occupation and that they were put up for protection from the rain. They don’t have the judgment yet to know what battles they can afford to lose in order to win the war. A Pyrrhic victory today does Occupy Orlando no good at all if they lose the park. Lt. laboo reappeared and said that the tarps are to be down in twenty minutes or else. Again there was heated discussion until Wasman, acting unilaterally, grabbed a couple of volunteers and got the tarps down: crisis averted. The dissidents threatened to go away and find other occupy groups. The crisis was broadcast over Facebook and Twitter and other social media sources and every news crew in town showed up, so there was a lot of sign waving and chanting.

Although the tarp incident for now is over, this brought up the problem of the property across the street. It is privately owned and vacant and in foreclosure. The owner is not known. It is not zoned for a tent city and is therefore in code and zoning violation. The owner is liable for fines of $1000.00 per day. Nothing there is going to happen immediately so it is a problem for another day. One interesting aspect of the property is that the homeless congregate and sleep there. They’ve also become the night watchmen for the occupation protecting all the materials and property left by the occupiers when they are out of the park. It’s been a boon for them. In return for their help they get fed regularly, have interesting people to talk to and perform many team duties.

So, what really happened?

Full information is not completely available yet, but it appears that the Tea Party, after being exposed this week is behind it and has been flooding City Hall with phone calls and e-mails protesting the occupation.  This is an election year and Lord High Mayor (in his own mind) Buddy Dyer depends on both the Tea Party and the Chamber of Commerce for his endorsements and contributions. He probably would like to ignore the situation but he is getting too much pressure to handle it. He also is still nursing the political black eye he got from the Food not Bombs controversy, so he’s definitely between a rock and a hard place. Dyer, a Democrat, has made many enemies recently in the local Democratic Party and he’s losing their support day by day. There is enough anger out there over his Food not Bombs faux pas, his support of current State House Speaker Dean Cannon in 2010 and his shameless double dealing over the Arena/Arts center to seriously hurt his chances of reelection. If he faces a strong, issues based activist opponent he could lose.

The media team research people should have a more complete narrative about the groups pressuring City Hall and the actors who made the decisions at some point tomorrow at which time they will be distributed here. The general Assembly minutes, if they are ready, will also be reported here. It has been a long day and time for Morpheus to entertain slumber.

To sleep, perchance to dream-ay, there’s the rub.

Jerry Waxman

Jerry Waxman