During NBA All-Star Weekend, Occupy Orlando activists call for civil rights and sharing

02/27/12 Seán Kinane
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Over the weekend, basketball fans were focused on Orlando, host of the NBA All-Star Game and associated festivities. But the group Occupy Orlando held their own, less flashy, celebration they called “All Share Weekend.” They billed it as a time for community, food, entertainment, art and education … all without the huge price tag of the All-Star Game. Activist Cat Duerr said the march was coordinated with the Florida Civil Rights Association.

“At Occupy Orlando we’re here in solidarity. We’re wanting to bring attention to the economic segregation and the homeless crisis in this area. Most people are not even aware that we have 49,000 homeless children in Orange County alone, 60,000 people who are considered homeless.* … We have ordinances in place that make it illegal to take care of these people, to assist your brothers and sisters. So we’re wanting to open some dialog and bring attention to these things today.”

Nearly forty people held signs and banners and chanted as they marched around downtown’s Lake Eola Park. J. Willie David III is president of the Florida Civil Rights Association, which co-sponsored the march. He opposes a bill moving through the Florida Legislature that would streamline and speed up the foreclosure process. David said that would break apart the American dream.

“Florida is one of the leading states that has foreclosures. And we want to make sure that – we have to look at the business practices of these banking and also the mortgage companies who have focused on predatory … on individuals who could not actually afford the mortgage themselves.”

Doug Head is a community activist and the former chair of the Democratic Party in Orange County. He said because of movements like the tea party and occupy …

“People have become aware that the system is not working for them, it’s working for the few at the top. And the Occupy challenge to America is: are we going to continue to run the country for the benefit of the DeVos family and basketball team owners and the 1%, or are we going to really be able to arrange the systems – the political systems – in this country to benefit all of us?”

Head is referring to the family of Rich DeVos, who owns the Orlando Magic and the consumer product line known as Amway. According to Forbes, DeVos has a net worth of $3.5 billion and is the 73rd richest person in America. In 2010 the Magic began playing in a new downtown stadium; for the previous 21 seasons their home was a nearby arena. The Orlando Sentinel reported the price tag of the new Amway Center, which hosted the All-Star Game, was more than $480 million. The team picked up a large portion of the bill, but the city owns the building and state taxpayers also helped with the cost. Head criticized what he called the game of wealthy team owners threatening to move their team out of town unless they get a new stadium funded mainly with public money.

“The sports industry in this country has massively profited by this game and the communities that are the victims of the sales job have not benefited. And the proof is looking at Parramore (Avenue district) immediately adjacent to the arena and immediately west where a couple of painted dumpsters are what they get out of the deal.”

Head added that in the effort by the city to gentrify the area near downtown, both arenas have taken out the heart of the community and perpetuated poverty. Occupy Orlando member Diego Atuesta illustrated the economic segregation by telling a story about a woman they tried unsuccessfully to find a spot in a homeless shelter.

“Every single shelter in Orlando, up to like Daytona was completely full. There was nowhere for her to stay. So, like, by this happening, like, it would open up space for so many people that are just out on the streets sleeping cold, like at night. And it’s not being used anyway; it’s not costing them any money. Why can’t they just open it and let people sleep there?”

One Florida state Senator, Republican Mike Bennett from Bradenton, is championing a bill to enforce a Florida law that required publicly-funded sports stadiums to also act as homeless shelters. It unanimously passed the Senate Community Affairs committee in January, but faces dim prospects of getting much further. Occupy Orlando activist Anna Denisenko supports Senator Bennett’s efforts.

“We paid quite a few million dollars to that new arena and the old one is sitting empty and no homeless people have ever been sheltered there on any day.”

In addition to concerns about mortgage foreclosures and homelessness, some of those marching for civil rights with Occupy Orlando were students struggling to make ends meet. Erica Tuttle is in her first-year at the University of Central Florida. The humanities major is fed up with the state Legislature authorizing increased tuition at state universities.

“Well, things are getting a lot tighter. I don’t have like barely any money. I feel like a burden to my parents. It’s really hurting. And we pay for things like college sports and building new buildings just to make the colleges look better and better. But when it comes to education-wise, I’m missing out on what, as a human, I’m supposed to be learning here. So, what am I getting from this and why doesn’t the government care?”

Activist Cat Duerr said that even after the NBA’s elite players and traveling sports fans have left town, there’s still more that needs to be done in the community.

“After the All-Star Weekend has come and gone, my biggest suggestion would be to continue to go out and engage people. Don’t walk past someone you see who doesn’t have anything. Don’t say ‘I’m not going to give that person money.’ At least give them water, give them food. Give them a smile and some conversation. Let’s start addressing the fact that we are all human beings.”

Besides the civil rights march during All Share Weekend, Occupy Orlando also held what they called a “Really Free Market” – a swap meet where no money changed hands, and they shared food in a community provided dinner.

more photos of Occupy Orlando All Share Weekend

*note: official homelessness counts for the county are much lower

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