I found Occupy Tampa on MLK Day, January 15th. They’d changed locations a few weeks earlier to avoid arrest but hadn’t updated their website to reflect the new digs, so I’d been guided to their new place by some kids hanging out in the downtown park they’d vacated. I had decided to join FDL’s Occupy Supply project a couple weeks earlier after defending the OWS movement to some friends on Facebook. I figured, if I felt so strongly about it, I’d better walk the talk. I also realized that my fair city was the site of the Republican National Convention this year, and I wanted to see Occupy Tampa survive to welcome them.
It was nearing 10pm when I finally located the camp. It was only a mile or so away from downtown but a far cry from the spacious and beautiful waterside park in the heart of Tampa’s financial district. The new camp was straight up hood, on the “wrong” side of the interstate highway running through the city, and not a white face in the neighborhood. A local strip club owner had stepped up in support of the movement and loaned the local occupiers the use of his lot, saying they could stay as long as they wanted. At 30′ x 40′ with a public sidewalk running diagonally through it, it was hard to turn down in the face of eviction.
So I interrupted a late-night strategy session to introduce myself and Occupy Supply. Pepe, 0ne of the guys, happily accepted the starter package FDL sends to each new liaison, which included several blankets and caps with the Occupy Supply logo. He distributed the items and had me introduce myself to the occupiers. I got lots of cheers, especially at the news that the items were union-made, along with several hugs and handshakes. Several occupiers were just happy to hear about Occupy Supply and the affirmation that their efforts mattered to someone. The blankets and caps were also well appreciated.
I returned a couple of times over the next week, on a weekday evening and a weekend day, to get to know the camp and the occupiers better. There are about 40 tents set up for occupiers, and 30 or so are occupied each and every night. (The daytime crowd swells to 200 or so on weekends.) There are also tents for health care, the kitchen, a library, a kids or arts space, a media room, and women’s safe space. There’s a large open space for hanging out, a dedicated space for the daily general assembly, and an 8′-diameter stage. It’s a pretty sophisticated operation, and there’s a core group of occupiers who are committed to staying the course.
The neighborhood has lots of love for Occupy Tampa. A house behind the lot is available for showers, and a couple of convenience stores on the block make bathrooms available anytime. In return, Occupy Tampa has started a community garden, has organized neighborhood cleanup events, and has held marches and rallies with local civic organizations to help address some of the community’s longstanding concerns. Because there’s a public sidewalk through the middle of the camp, there are many opportunities to engage members of the community about political and economic issues and the movement’s purpose. Occupy Tampa also does frequent direct action, including die-ins at local electronics store to protest Chinese sweatshops, protesting the Florida Republican debates in both Tampa and Jacksonville, glitter-bombing Rick Santorum, and many other actions.
This is a wonderful group of people, serious, concerned, sober, dedicated, diverse in age, education, ethnicity, sexual orientation, even politics. Early this week, I was able to deliver an Occupy Supply order for the camp — gloves, socks, more blankets, as well as air mattresses and tent liners. And just in the nick of time… the weather here in Tampa has grown wet and very cold, after months of what felt like spring. I got a feeling it doesn’t matter, though. Occupy Tampa is in it for the long haul.
Here are some photos of the camp and the occupiers:
Support Occupy Supply if you can.