Occupy Tampa remembers 6 months of continuous outdoor occupation

04/06/12 Janelle Irwin
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This weekend, Occupy Tampa is celebrating their six-month anniversary by holding what they are calling Day of Rage 2.0. In addition to holding marches today and tomorrow, members of Occupy Tampa are also remembering the good times they’ve had along the way.

A half of a year later, Occupy Tampa is continuing to plan actions to voice their opposition of corporate greed and a local political process they see as flawed. But the group wants to do more. Nathan Schwartz joined the movement a month after it began. He said this weekend he wants to draw more support through educating the public.

“I’m actually going to teach a teach-in on consensus building very shortly and we’re going to have an urban gardening one as well. We’re going to have a non-violent communication as well and we’re going to have meta-communication also. So we have all those teach-ins. I’ll be teaching one every hour.”

Early this year the group left their encampment along the sidewalk in front of Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park to take up residence at Voices of Freedom park in West Tampa. There they were given permission to set up tents – an opportunity for members to be more comfortable and provide services to that surrounding community. But as they faded from public view, some members decided to re-take Curtis Hixon. Michael Fernandez said they are trying to boost their image and their action.

“We have, in the last few months, developed a much more active political organization. We have been attending most all school board meetings and we are planning to run several candidates for school board, county commission, clerk of courts and sheriff.”

Occupy Tampa held their first march on September 24th and Monday will be the six-month anniversary of the group’s first overnight occupation. This weekend Fernandez said they are going to make themselves more visible and, hopefully, send some strong messages to elected officials and their constituents.

“Today we are marching as a general protest of all things bad in the nation and all things bad in the city. Tomorrow we are marching specifically to city hall to speak to the more local issues and how mismanaged the entire city is.”

But in between protests, marches and general assemblies where they planned it all, occupiers lived their lives and created memories no differently than everyone else. Daiquiri Jones, one of the Tampa movement’s most active members, said he and a friend got tired of having to be serious all the time.

“So we create this contest to see who would be able to hold that serious face for the longest amount of time and it went to such a ridiculous degree - this is at our new park - that we were flailing around, we had painted each other’s faces, we had written things on each other and we just maintained a serious face through the whole process. And I ended up having to carry the person on my shoulders and running around in order to get them to laugh.”

And Michael Fernandez got married.

“I had a golden colander on my head, she had a silver colander. We were dressed like pirates and she is my wench and I am her pirate and those are in the vows, I’m allowed to call her my wench now.”

Their wedding was just four days ago at Occupy Tampa’s general assembly. He and his bride, Xtevie Fernandez, wore colanders because they were married in the Pastafarian faith. Followers worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It’s a far cry from a conventional wedding, but Xtevie and Michael plan to marry under many faiths. And to her, it was the wedding of her dreams.

“I got to get dressed up. I got to be with friends. I got to be with family. I got to be a part of a movement all at the same time and that was perfect. Plus, I’ve got plenty more coming up, so it’ll just get better and better. Our honeymoon is changing the world. How could you ask for anything more?”

It’s no wedding, but Nathan Schwartz will never forget the day he joined Occupy Tampa. It was the end of October just after Occupy Oakland was raided and protesters were pepper sprayed and arrested.

“We have a very big disconnect in this – especially in Western culture – from ourselves and our community and being involved directly in something like that where your voice means just as much as the person who is 60-years-old and has been doing this forever. Your voice means exactly the same if not more if you have something more worthy to say than they do; if people like what you have to say better. It’s a very opening experience. It’s a very – it feels belonging. I am working towards something. We are working towards something.”

Of course, not all of the memories are good ones. Dozens of Occupy Tampa members have been arrested – some several times. Daiquiri Jones is one of them. His charges ranged from trespassing to battery on a law enforcement officer. But what Daiquiri really loathes isn’t just getting hauled off to Orient Road jail, it’s what he calls the constant police harassment.

“Having to walk down this sidewalk for hours this one night because a police officer kept following me threatening to take away all of the books that we had if I let go. I think I counted over a thousand steps. But even that was kind of sweet because the fellow occupiers cheered me on. We laughed about how ridiculous the situation was.”

Events being held throughout the weekend are planned to remind people that Occupy Tampa has not gone away. In literature they are distributing to people passing by Curtis Hixon waterfront Park, they invite past members to re-join and are looking for new support. One flyer calls the actions planned for today and tomorrow an encore performance.

previous coverage of Occupy Tampa

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