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Politics

'Occupy Wall Street' Heads for Florida as the Anti-Tea Party

October 2, 2011 - 6:00pm

Frustrated by Wall Street bailouts and inspired by seemingly spontaneous demonstrations in New York City, protesters plan to take to the streets in Florida this week.

"Occupy" groups in Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and Jacksonville say they are joining a populist movement that's spreading to cities across America.

Organizing via Facebook and Twitter (#OccupyWallStreet), protests are being spawned by a small group of demonstrators rallying in New York City. A gathering of more than 400 peacefully rallied in Tampa last weekend.

With similar protests sparking in Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and other U.S. cities, Occupy Tampa is planning an all-day demonstration Thursday at Lykes Gaslight Park, beginning at 9 a.m.

Liberal and progressive groups, including St. Pete for Peace, said they will march on Tampa's financial district.

On Saturday, demonstrations are planned in Jacksonville (noon at Hemming Plaza) and Fort Lauderdale (5 p.m. at 100 S. Andrews Ave.).

The action moves to Gainesville and Ocala next week, with protests scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 12, at Bo Diddley Plaza in Gainesville and Saturday, Oct. 15, in downtown Ocala.

Franco Ripple, a progressive activist in South Florida, said, "In the last few years we've seen the tea party lay claim to the populist idea that they are speaking for 'the majority of Americans' or 'the American people' with calls for dramatic cuts and absolutely no tax increases of any kind, regardless of income.

"The tea party misguidedly believes the government is screwing us through so-called 'wealth redistribution,' while the Occupy protesters believe that corporate/financial kleptocracy is screwing us," said Ripple, who said he is not involved in the Occupy movement.

"The way I see it, the Occupy protests are possibly the beginnings -- not the fully fleshed-out, fully organized end result -- of the same populist sentiments that caused the tea party's rise: feelings of economic insecurity leading to a sense that someone, somewhere is screwing us."

Bart Naylor, with the Washington, D.C.-based Public Citizen, called the Occupy movement America's "Arab Spring" against a corporate elite.

"The [global] economic mess started as a financial crash. It's legitimate to vent passion that this is unjust and that repair is necessary," Naylor said.

Zeroing in on the growth and complexity of high finance, Naylor noted that America's financial sector accounted for 10 percent of GDP after World War I, whereas it absorbs 20 percent of GDP today.

"As an intermediary that tries to collect capital and direct its best use in the economy, this should be a service industry whose success is enlarging the economy, not itself," Naylor states.

"University of Florida summa cum laude graduates are having trouble finding jobs that involve more than waiting tables," he added.

Robert Harris, author of a forthcoming novel, "The Fear Index," said financial markets have become so intentionally complicated that economics majors are considered too "soft" for increasingly technocratic work on Wall Street.

"One extremely successful hedge fund manager -- with $12 billion in assets under management -- won't hire anyone without a top Ph.D. in math or physics," Harris related.

Unlike traditional demonstrations whipped up by labor unions or established political organizations -- the ever-active Progress Florida said it has no role in the Florida protests -- the emerging "Occupy" movement appears to be sui generis.

"It's college students facing recession," Naylor said.

Angry over stubbornly high unemployment and disparate income gaps in the wake of a U.S. taxpayer-funded bank bailout estimated at $3.4 trillion, more than 700 protesters were arrested on or near the Brooklyn Bridge last weekend.

Protesters still camping out in Manhattan's financial district represent an eclectic mix of young and old, with secular progressives finding solidarity with moralizing "social justice" activists armed with a broad sense of history.

One erudite placard quoted from English political philosopher and Christian apologist G.K. Chesterton:

"An enormous amount of modern ingenuity is expended on finding defenses for the indefensible conduct of the powerful."

"So far, the Occupy protesters' message has been a little muddled, but that's because the sentiment that we need to return to a more just, equal society is harder to distill into sound bites," Ripple observed.

But even amid muddled messages and a largely uninterested mainstream media, he recalled, "Rome eventually collapsed in large part due to wealth inequality. Without knowing it, the Occupy protesters are fighting to ensure that we don't go down that same path. No society this unequal can last."

Ripple, who describes himself as a "moderate center-left Democrat," concluded, "These protests are just and legitimate as long as they remain nonviolent. The situation on the ground is moving fast, I'm sure, but there is absolutely no place for violence in our American democracy whatsoever."

With America's jobless ranks increasing, the "Occupy" movement appears to have a wealth of foot soldiers.

One New York protester, Kira Moyer-Sims, 19, of Portland, Ore., told the Associated Press that demonstrators are in for the long haul

They thought we were going to leave and we havent left, she said of city officials.

In an email response to a Sunshine State News inquiry, a representative of Occupy Tallahassee wrote that the local movement "is centered around standing in solidarity with our fellow protesters on Wall Street, but also addressing specific issues pertinent to the state of Florida.

"As the city housing the capital, we are very critical of the Legislature and Governor Rick Scott and what they have done to the people in terms of allowing corporations to come into Florida and receive these incredible tax breaks that mean balancing the budget by cutting the salaries of teachers, hiking tuition, cutting funding to projects that would create more public-sector jobs, gutting the Department of Children and Families and criminalizing poverty by requiring welfare applicants to be drug tested.

"In the end the movement here is about recognizing how corporate greed and capitalistic consumption has specifically affected the lives of those living in the Sunshine State and how we, the 99 percent, can stand up against that and support the movements happening all over the globe at the same time," wrote the representative, who declined to be named.

Contact Kenric Ward at kward@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 801-5341.

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