Monday, September 24, 2012

Occupy Orlando 2.0


September 17th marked the one year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. An open forum was held at the Administration Building (201 South Rosalind Avenue) in downtown Orlando. Last year the Occupy Orlando demonstrators camped out in Senator Beth Johnson Park on Lake Ivanhoe for about two months. Some demonstrators were arrested for  petty actions like writing on the sidewalk with chalk or sleeping on the grass. Personal items were confiscated by police. The group was ejected in December and they then moved down to City Hall. The demonstrations then slowly lost ground.

About 25 people at most gathered for this one year anniversary. One news van was parked nearby. I was surprised to find the Occupy leader in a stiff pressed, collared dress shirt with a black tie. One speaker felt that the anarchist principles of some members of the group undermined the cause. Another speaker felt the movement wasn't dead but was now regrouping and working within the system to bring about change. The Occupy movement has been used by advertising and the "We are the 99%" slogan is now a part of popular culture.  More than once, the importance of getting people registered to vote was pointed out. Many of the young demonstrators were new to the disappointments that came with little or no change. Change never happens fast however. Lives were lost in the battle to bring equal rights to all men and it took decades for women to gain the right to vote.

I sketched Jim Howe of the Communication Workers of America as he spoke. Hundreds of thousands of petition signatures were gathered to get a sick time initiative on the November ballot. County Commissioners seem to be doing all they can to stall the initiative which would require employees to offer sick time to employees. If approved by voters, the sick-time initiative would require employers with 15 or more workers to provide paid time off to employees who are sick or caring for a sick family member. Both full- and part-time employees would earn one hour of sick time for every 37 hours they work, to a maximum of 56 hours per year. In a service industry town, I can imagine many businesses wouldn't feel they profit from a sick time initiative.

One speaker who is running for public office, said elections should not be about raising the largest amount of campaign money. He felt elections should be about reaching the most voters online. A young demonstrator said that since the movement broke up, he has been occupying a MacDonald's where he talks to people about change. The important thing is that he remains out in the community sharing his thoughts and opening a discussion. A speaker shouted out, "Mic check!" everyone shouted back, "Mic check!". "It's good to hear your still out there" he said. After the last speaker was finished, the grey sky opened up and it began to pour. Everyone scattered for cover. I wrapped my sketchbooks in plastic and walked back to my car huddled under my umbrella in the deluge.


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