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Occupy Wall Street's Impact on Florida

The Occupy Wall Street movement has spread south to Florida. But what impact will the protests have here?

To get a “big picture” perspective on the Occupy Wall Street protests and how they’re playing out in Florida, we speak with Seth McKee, who leads the department of history and politics at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. He tells WUSF’s Scott Finn that these protests are especially unusual for Florida.

This is a movement led largely by young people, so WUSF’s Yoselis Ramos asks students at the University of South Florida in Tampa about their opinions of Occupy Wall Street.

And we speak with Sean Snaith, director of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Economic Competitiveness, about income inequality in Florida.

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"Translate" or Bowdlerize?

I posted this to the WUSF FAcebook page, where it promptly seemed to disappear:

Regarding your interview with Seth McKee about Occupy Wall St., much of what Mr. Mckee had to say was reasonable, as far as it went. Florida is a conservative state for reasons that go deep into its demographics, development and political economy, and neither Mr. McKee nor most other people dare go there (you'd lose your precious "listener support."

I must quibble, however, with Mr. McKee's advice that the folks getting the bum's rush from public and private parks around the nation need to "translate" their political dissatisfaction into the language of one of the existing parties. When a key part of a movement is to allege that the existing system is broken, joining that system to "effect change from within," as the saying goes, is a basic contradiction, an irrationality that would lose OWS every sincere bit of support it now has. You may want to believe this system can be changed from within, but can you actually document any such thing?

Inaccuracies and Misdirection in this Story

The first major error in this story was the statement that Tampa has not had a permanent occupation similar to New York's or Oakland's. Mr. Mckee stated that "We don't really have a permanent presence here, which obviously keeps the movement down." In fact, Occupy Tampa has been holding space round the clock at Curtis Hixon Park since 6:30AM, October 10th, 2011 (See: http://www.occupytampa.org/media/press-releases/tampa-has-been-occupied/). The numbers of overnight occupiers have varied from several dozen to roughly 100 on some Saturdays. There is a table with literature, a small food pantry, and a lending library. There are places to sleep, mats, bedding, and sleeping bags. Tents have been erected but taken down by the TPD. It is simply not true that Tampa has not had a bona fide permanent Occupation.

This error was promoted both by Carson Cooper and his guest. Instead of asking an under-informed professor from St. Petersburg, wouldn't it have made more sense to actually go to Curtis Hixon and get the facts from the people on the ground? It would've been much more productive to visit a General Assembly or simply interview some of Tampa's occupiers, which would've simultaneously dispelled the notion that this movement is unsophisticated and unorganized (false notions further perpetuated by Carson's guest). An opportunity was missed to provide your audience with a much better picture of the facts and insight into what's happening in the country and in their own community. (I encourage curious minds to check out Curtis Hixon Park and www.occupytampa.org for firsthand information.)

Another serious error was the statement that city governments are cracking down on Occupations because of, as Seth McKee put it, "the criminal activity that has sort infiltrated these occupy movements." This is simply not accurate. I can list on one hand the number of isolated criminal incidents: an assault in New York, a drug-related arrest in Nashville, and a shooting death near Occupy Oakland. The occupy movement involves thousands upon thousands of people. Occupy Wall Street has 318,517 likes on facebook. Does one assault, a drug-related arrest, and a vaguely connected shooting imply that the movement has been "infiltrated" by criminal activity? That is an outrageous and utterly false statement!

If you look at the story as a whole, nationwide, you will see that it is not really a question of "law and order." You will see that cities and police departments have reacted in various and inconsistent ways, and that the issue of Occupy Encampments is a highly politicized issue. It is not a simple matter of enforcing park ordinances and protecting public safety. Oakland's Mayor Quan and NYC's Mayor Bloomberg raid their local encampments, while the Irvine City Council applauds the occupiers and votes unanimously to allow protesters to camp on public property as a form of free speech (October 25th, 2011, Orange County, California). Similarly, on October 26, 2011, the LA city council unanimously passed a resolution of open support for Occupy Los Angeles, and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has been known to hand out ponchos in the rain.

Even in places where the political establishment is against the occupiers, the local police departments sometimes resist pressure from above. Especially notable is the decision of Police Chief Steven Krokoff who defied pressure from New York's governor Cuomo to clear out Occupy Albany (on Friday, October 21, 2011). One official explained that "State Police supported the defiant posture of Albany police leaders to hold off making arrests for the low-level offense of trespassing." According to some clearheaded police departments, it's the crackdowns themselves "that could endanger the police and the public," and not these peaceful Occupations (see http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Protest-rolls-past-curfew-223044...).

In short, this story promoted factual inaccuracies and outright distortions. I am a fan of NPR and WUSF, but this program was simply flawed.
It missed the point, and it missed an opportunity.

Please look at the context

I’m glad you’re a fan of WUSF, and I am sorry you are disappointed in the Florida Matters show on the Occupy Movement.

I have to take issue with how you characterize Dr. McKee’s conversation with me (not Carson, as you say in your comment). McKee never says there is no occupation. In fact, shortly before the section you quote out of context, McKee agrees with me about the people camping

I ask a question where I say that in Florida, some of the occupiers have been staying around.

“You don’t have these sorts of tent cities that we’re seeing in other places…and we don’t really have that in Florida where you see these tent cities that are semi-permanent, so to speak,” McKee said.

“We really didn’t have the crackdown because we really didn’t have the tent cities. We had a small handful of people that were camping out in Tampa who (“Right,” says McKee.) had some tussles with police, but nothing of the scale you’re hearing about in Portland or places like that,” I said.

“Or New York City, where you really do have somewhat of a permanent presence, people banging drums all day. And we don’t really have that permanent presence here, which really keeps the movement obviously down,” McKee said.

In context, it is clear that McKee is talking about large encampments of protesters staying in places for long periods of time. From our own reporting and from other news reports, it is clear there are not “tent cities” in downtown Tampa, nor is there a large number of permanent protesters staying there overnight.

We have done several stories talking to people in the Occupy movement, despite the fact that no one has reached out to us with contact information or a heads up on upcoming activities. We planned to have an Occupy USF student on the show but she canceled the interview at the last minute.

Thanks for your interest!

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