If you’re thinking that the occupy movements are fading away you might want to consider thinking twice. While the larger cities have been foolishly wasting whatever political capital and credibility they still have on trying to obliterate the camps, other camps in smaller cities and towns. It is true that many of these occupy sites have lost some population there is a hard core of idealists that refuse to let it go away. If you think that that the occupations haven’t had an impact, then you are wrong again. In Orlando city, county and school board officials have felt the impact of ordinary people watching them and keeping tabs. The conversations have changed. When something new or radical challenges the establishment the first reaction is to quell the opposition. Cities will use force, which will only give them a temporary advantage. The occupy movements are learning every day how to adapt to the conditions.

Saul Alinsky has risen, like Lazarus, from the grave.

Recently Newt Gingrich has invoked the name of Saul Alinsky as something evil. Alinsky was the organizing genius, through his Industrial Areas Foundation, that got communities and unions throughout the country organized into positive action to improve their lot in life throughout the thirties, forties and fifties. He also spent considerable time in jail, which only helped the causes he worked for become more resolute. It was never a deterrent. In the sixties he read the signs correctly and noted that the middle class was to be the next target of the establishment. All throughout his career Alinsky never joined any of the organizations that he worked with and never entered into an action without being invited by the oppressed group. He never imposed himself or his organization on them. Interestingly, his initial funding came from a member of the Pritzker dynasty. I could include links here but that makes your job too easy. Take the time and read about Alinsky, especially his 1968 Playboy interview. It’s no wonder that Gingrich demonizes him. He’s scared to death of what would have happened if Alinsky had lived to organize the middle class.

Dick Armey thought enough of Alinsky that he made “Rules for Radicals,” Alinsky’s 1968 best seller required reading for his Astroturf Tea Party organization. Some of the tactics worked for a short while, but as in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” once the wrong hands get hold of the information it backfires on them. That’s because Alinsky’s strategies are designed for community action that is positive in nature, not destructive. Recent repressive and oppressive laws, either proposed or passed by Republican controlled state legislatures and Governors, is meeting severe resistance from all kinds of community groups. Wisconsin and Ohio are good examples. Wisconsin voters will likely recall Governor Scott Walker and a few more legislators and the voters of Ohio overturned a recent anti-collective bargaining law. Community outrage had its effect on the Florida Senate’s 19-21 recent defeat of the Prison Privatization bill, despite Governor Rick Scott’s support.

Hope springs eternal

Occupy members have been active in Tallahassee since the beginning of the legislative period, along with members of the AFL-CIO, Organize Now, and a host of other community groups, so it is no coincidence that new groups are starting to spring up. The press release arrived on Feb. 9 that The Hope Church will host the “Occupy Our Community” Panel Symposium on Friday, February 24, 2012, 6:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m., at 3032 Monte Carlo Trail, Orlando, Florida 32805. The event is supposed to raise awareness of growth challenges in the neighborhood of Washington Shores, while addressing potential solutions for shaping a community that can deliver greater economic vitality. Washington Shores is a west Orlando neighborhood established by a civic group more than 65 years ago.

“Citizens of the Washington Shores community rank among the highest in Orlando in joblessness, and experience significant economic, health and educational disparities,” states Bishop Allen T.D. Wiggins, Senior Pastor, at The Hope Church. “Given this, I’m pleased to know that our “Occupy Our Community” forums will stimulate much needed conversation with key stakeholders about what is required to implement a paradigm shift in this economically disadvantaged area,” he adds.  Scheduled panelists include: Allie L. Braswell, Jr., President, Central Florida Urban League; Dr. Robert M. Spooney, President, African-American Chamber of Commerce of Central Florida; David Rucker, President, Greater Washington Shores Area Association; Clinton Salter, Community Resident; Tezlyn Figaro, Founder/CEO, The Allied Group; Virginia Whittington, Metroplan Orlando; Dr. Larry Mills, Senior Pastor, Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church; and Derrick McRae, Senior Pastor, The Experience Christian Center. The program will be moderated by Don Miller, radio host, the Big 810 AM; Frank Mitchell, Business Strategist; and Pastor Sharon Riley.  This is an admirable position for the community to take. One can hope that these discussions will lead to positive action.

Lights, Camera Action!

The demise of ACORN stopped the organization from further being effective. It did not stop the people who worked for ACORN from being civic activists. Many of them are working with other organizing groups. Former ACORN activists started the “Pink Slip Rick” movement in Florida which continues to grow. About three weeks ago a new group giving itself the working title Orlando Unity formed and started to meet. This is a loosely based assembly of occupiers, union members, organizers and activists who regard action over words. While forming ideas is important the implementation of effective action is just as important. This is a group of people who are actually doers. The meeting was to take place Sunday at a union hall in College Park, however, the hall was being used, due to a scheduling snafu, by a group of Elvis impersonators. Coming on the heels of Whitney Houston’s death (more on that in a future column) on Saturday it seemed eerie.

“Smoking, drinking, never thinking of tomorrow, nonchalant.

Diamonds shining, dancing dining with some man in a restaurant……”

The first action will be coming shortly as it was learned that the Florida Senate had just whizzed SB 7210 through committee and would bring it on the floor on Thursday, Feb. 16. The bill specifically cuts the minimum wage for tipped restaurant employees from $4.65 per hour down to the federal Restaurant worker’s wage of $2.13 per hour. The battle for higher Florida server wages was fought in a 2005 constitutional amendment and the conservatives have never forgotten it. The Florida Lodging and Restaurant Association, as well as Darden Restaurants, who operate Red Lobster, The Olive Garden, Longhorn, The Capital Grille and Bahama Breeze and OSI Partners, who operate Outback Steakhouse, Bonefish Grill, Carrabba’s and others are solidly behind this bill, which most likely was written by lobbyists from the Florida Lodging and Restaurant Association. The effect of the bill is to cut $100.00 per week from the earnings of a typical server in these and other restaurants. Since the Association says the two large chains are already having good years, and they predict record profits for the next year this only confirms that they want to guarantee their profits on the backs of their employees. Actions are being planned right now to address this by Orlando Unity and other allied groups, plus there will be a delegation from Miami in Tallahassee to address this with legislators. The politicians in Tallahassee are also going to try to push through a speedup foreclosure bill which will take away people’s rights to go to court over their foreclosure action. Expect lots of community actions and fireworks over this political hot potato, which will be the subject of my next column, unless I feel inspired to write about Whitney Houston and right now I’m fighting the urge successfully.

Introducing the 1948 Studebaker*

Discretion got the better of me after the Florida Democratic Party State Convention held at Disney’s Contemporary Resort back at the end of October so I didn’t write anything about it rather than say anything negative. Let’s just say that the highlight of the convention was Friday night when Debbie Wasserman Schultz and VP Joe Biden took the floor at a closed big dollar a plate dinner. The rest of the convention could have been phoned in without actually being there and I could have taken advantage of  any of Disney’s great golf courses. Sure, the Saturday night parties were great but I didn’t have to spend the money to attend the convention for that. My point is that being at the Contemporary was an absolute disaster for people who weren’t staying there and the only thing accomplished was that they would re-elect the President. Short sighted move if you ask me. The fact that the party did not schedule a primary had an adverse affect on this state.

The comparison to the 1948 Studebaker comes from an observation I made when my father bought one and drove it home for the first time. Like many others I said “Gee, which way is it going?” It really did have great styling and was far ahead of the Big Three for a few years. Unfortunately, Studebaker rested on its laurels for too long and had to merge with the more conservative Packard  Motor Co (Are you catching my drift here?). That merger didn’t last too long and by the mid sixties it was all over. My question is “Gee, which way is the Florida Democratic Party going?” By blindly cutting off any and all discussion of finding a primary opponent the party insured a win for tax cutting legislation in Orange County and probably several other counties and cities in the state. Without a primary there is no measuring of grass roots support for any policies or positions that any candidate may take. Without a primary Democrats just didn’t go to the polls. We really don’t need to fight voter suppression laws as long as we have disengaged and disinterested Democrats and that is squarely in the lap of the state party. The party needs to find out which direction it is going and should at least trade up to a 1962 Avanti, preferably made in this country, not Canada.

* The car pictured here is most likely a 1950 model. The 1948 grille was flatter and looked more like a Chrysler Corp front. The 1950 Bullet (or T-33 Jet) nose just looks better and it is more modern.

Jerry Waxman

Jerry Waxman