Mainstream media has it wrong about anarchists, activists say as they clean up neighborhood
The Occupy Tampa encampment has come under fire by some community leaders in West Tampa who think it’s an eye sore. Today, the group is cleaning it up along with some other areas in the neighborhood. But they’re not just doing it to help out their neighbors. Bailey Riley was one of the occupiers who organized the effort. She said it’s also a way to combat rising opinions that people in the movement are anarchists bent on chaos and destruction.
“And what a lot of people don’t realize is that anarchy is really based on mutual aid. So, the point of doing this whole “fix shit up” thing was to counter the bad image that a lot of anarchists get that is how people feel them and how people think it’s very chaotic and how people think that the only anarchist mentality is property damage and I guess, hate, really is what a lot of people are under the impression of.”
Tampa city officials established a set of special rules to enforce during the Republican National Convention. Throughout that process, they continuously said it was to protect people from violent protesters who they referred to as “the anarchists.” Riley blames mainstream media coverage who used a literal definition of anarchy that doesn’t really apply to members of Occupy Tampa who operate under anarchist philosophies.
“But really it just means without authority; it means, the mentality itself is ‘nobody can rule my life better than me’ and therefore by doing good for yourself you’re doing good for the community because you’re healthy, the community’s healthy, you’re helping one another by being healthy yourself. So, it’s really based upon – there’s no authority figures because everybody is their own authority figure.”
Not all occupiers identify themselves as anarchists. Riley said some call the movement a direct democracy.
“…which is funny because it’s really not. It’s really not democratic because democracy really implies that it’s majority rule, minority rights. But with consensus, it’s very individualistic. It’s, you agree with something or you stand aside with something or you can block something and if you block something that’s something that’s taken very seriously.”
Since last week, the group Food Not Bombs has been partnering with occupiers in Voice of Freedom Park to feed people in the park. That continued today as people filled up on fruit and a homemade granola concoction. The food gave activists a chance to gear up for an afternoon of manual labor. Jimmy Dunson said instead of waiting for the government to step in, he helped organize the effort to lend a hand in the community.
“So, we’re just going to go into the community and clean some stuff, pick up trash, work on this community garden next to Voice of Freedom Park in Old West Tampa and just give back to the community, show an example and show an alternative to the message of the RNC and the city and the police.”
The security efforts in Tampa for the Republican Convention were funded by a $50 million grant from the federal government. Dunson said that money could have been used better.
“We’re showing that with the $50 million that they spent on the helicopters, on the police knocking on our doors, on the spy cameras, they could have been doing stuff like this.”
The group planned to reach out to homeowners in the community to make repairs or clean up yards. But Riley said a lot of the residents are too proud to accept the help. So instead, they’re focusing largely on the park itself and common areas around the neighborhood. Pepe Kovanis, an activist and gardener from northern Pinellas County donated a rain barrel and seeds to the project.
“It’s important to give back to the community to let them know that we care, that we’re here for them. We’re not just coming to town to party and live it up, we’re actually concerned and are willing to do something about it. We’re willing to put our money where our mouth is.”
Occupy Tampa is partnering with other activists in the area and from around the country throughout the week to protest the Republican National Convention. They have an agreement with the park’s owner, Tampa businessman Joe Redner, to leave the park sometime in September.
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