Occupy Tampa has permission to camp in their new West Tampa park

01/03/12 Janelle Irwin
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Occupy Tampa protesters seem to have found a permanent place to camp and avoid arrest. Beginning last Thursday, occupiers set up their tents in a West Tampa park. They expect a different outcome than the last time they tried to camp in a park and 29 people got arrested.

“On the sidewalk, we did a lot of work, but we really couldn’t build on what we had and now we can build.”

Susie Shannon said Tampa officials have allowed occupiers to sleep on parts of a public sidewalk in front of downtown’s Curtis Hixon Park for more than 12 weeks, but the group wanted a bigger presence so they set up a second occupation in west Tampa.

“I think when the first structure went up; we realized this is a whole different trip. This is what we’ve been wanting to do for so long and this is how you establish – you can build from this.”

The Voices of Freedom Park is owned by strip club mogul Joe Redner. He said the group can use the park as long as they are not a disruption or a nuisance.

“Until our people of this country wake up to what’s going on in our legislatures and how they’re bought and paid for by special interests and how the rich are getting off with almost no taxes whatsoever and they call it class warfare because we want to tax the rich, which I’m one of, and actually the class warfare is on the middle class.”

Because it’s privately owned, Occupy Tampa gets to play by Redner’s rules, not the city’s. But one member, Nick Windholz, said a few protesters are going to maintain an Occupy presence in front of Curtis Hixon Park.

“Because we’re going to maintain both spaces. We don’t want to leave the sidewalk because we’ve done a lot of sacrificing over that sidewalk and we’re not really ready to give it up yet because we’re afraid that if we all move here, we won’t be allowed back on that sidewalk if something does transpire to where we can’t stay here anymore.”

Windholz dismisses claims from the city that they bent over backwards to allow occupiers to sleep on a public sidewalk.

“Which, we don’t think they did. We’ve gone under constant harassment on that sidewalk. But, it’s hard to say if we left it completely for more than a week, they might not let us return to it so we’re going to maintain a constant presence at both.”

“We are not a charity. We are not a political party. We are not a block party. We are a social movement united by our common desire to resolve the injustices inflicted on us by systematic economic inequality.”

During their first General Assembly meeting at the new encampment Thursday, members agreed on basic principles. Those included things like treating others with respect and taking personal responsibility for actions. In one of their first shows of neighborly compassion, Becky Rubright said the group intentionally set up camp only on one side of the park to leave room for a little girl’s birthday party.

“The main benefit is, by extending respect and courtesy to our neighbors, they will reciprocate.”

Occupy Tampa’s Susie Shannon said one person discouraged the group from occupying a park in a low income neighborhood.

“But the reception, my understanding, has been very positive. And every person that’s walked through the park today that I’ve talked to has been excited about it, or at least interested.”

The group also agreed to hold all future General Assembly meetings at the new park as long as those who choose to hold onto their slice of sidewalk in downtown could still participate. Dreyton Williams disagreed with having meetings in only one location.

“Well, I think that at least one or two GA’s should be held at Curtis Hixon, I don’t think all of them should be here. I think people should be made to move because when you’re made to be mobile from place to place it keeps your mind alert. Rather than being in the same place all the time. It would kind of create a stagnancy I believe.”

Because there are fewer restrictions in the new park, Occupy Tampa is setting up a library, kitchen and medical tent. The group plans to have a community yard sale on January 7 to raise funds for supplies.

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