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‘Occupy’ what – A church and a preschool? : Umm, what’s this about again?

Occupy Ft. Myers Poster from FaceBook

JUST IN CASE anyone out there is still unconvinced that ‘Occupiers’ have the collective I.Q. of an ant, please read my latest encounter with just one of the many ‘Occupy’ encampments. This story happened in Ft. Myers, Florida, but it could have happened anywhere. In fact, it’s probably happening somewhere near you right now…

 For nine days, Occupiers in Ft. Myers, Florida took over the grounds of a Unitarian Universalist church and adjoining Pre-school, driving out parents, toddlers and teachers for the week.

 Unitarian elders originally invited the group to squat on church property after Sheriff Mike Scott ordered them out of the city’s Centennial Park for permit issues, but not one felt obligated to inform the staff of Creative Minds Montessori School, who rents permanent classroom facilities there (Incidentally, church representatives were unavailable for comment on this story).

 Instead, school staff and parents were blindsided on Sunday night when one of the teachers heard about the camp and drove by to check it out. In addition to around 40 “Occupiers” comfortably established in tents with the full array of food, coolers, grills, music and electric lights supplied by the church, people consumed alcohol and marijuana, just feet from the preschool where children were to play outside.

 Even more alarming, the arrest records of a number of protesters drew concerns among both parents and school faculty, a concern completely missed by the church elders who invited the group to camp out near the pre-school without ever thinking to check criminal backgrounds or the State’s pedophile database: Says Arete, an Occupier:

 “What an amazing and crazy journey… We are safe in our sanctuary found at Unitarian Universalist Church on Shire Lane off of Daniels Parkway. On our first night here, we had many of the church members come out to visit with us as they helped run power lines, lights and give us a tour. Occupiers are at this moment enjoying lake front property, camp fire pits, and many other accommodations like our newly built shower!”

Some of the church’s new waterfront guests include Constance Galati, 21, who was arrested the week prior and charged with trespassing, resisting an officer and battery on an officer the night the demonstration was broken up at Centennial Park and the group was put on the move. When Galati posted her disdain for the cops on her Facebook page, fellow Occupier, 22-year-old Ryan Komosinski, responded in Galati’s defense by posting on her wall:

“I’m bombing the FMPD, f*** them” (Komosinski was subsequently the second arrest that week).

 The night I stopped by to see just what the “Occupy Movement” was all about in Ft. Myers and what they thought about a pre-school being so near their latest encampment, one of the first people I ran into was Galati, her face artfully painted with colorful designs and her slurred speech eager to tell me the whole, sorted story of her arrest. Unfortunately her earnest yet rambling defense soon degraded into an announcement that she really needed “to find a tampon,” and off she went.

 Just as their Facebook page said, the camp was full of amenities, and the 15-or-so Occupy die-hards that remained overnight were more than accommodating and almost desperate to explain their angst to anyone who would listen. I would listen – I decided – and pulled up one of the many donated chairs to take notes.

 Just what do these people want, I thought? Like their ‘Occupy’ counterparts in other states, the Ft. Myers Occupy crowd certainly began with a huge dose of blind gusto back on October 15th:

 “This protest is like going to be the biggest day of my life, but I so don’t want to miss Zombicon, so I’m just gonna’ wear my makeup to the march, is that cool with everybody?” Asked concerned citizen Steve White on the Occupy Ft. Myers Facebook page.  (Fortunately for Steve, it was “cool with everybody”).

Other pioneer ‘Occupiers,’ like Erica Martin, bathed themselves in idealism: “The thing I love the most about this movement is it has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with making what’s wrong right.”

(Spoiler Alert….I guess Erica doesn’t know that the Communist Party USA held a national teleconference last month led by Southern California Communist Party Leader Arturo Cambron to discuss their goals with the Young Communist League (YCL) for the Occupy movement across the country, where he said:

“The AFL-CIO is opening union halls and offering other material assistance. Underlying it all is the economic crisis, the massive unemployment and growing realization that nothing is getting better. There is a consensus against corporate greed, getting money out of politics, taxing the rich and putting people before profits.  A big challenge for the CPUSA and left, progressive movements is to link these demonstrations with the labor led all-people’s coalition and help deepen understanding that the path to progress must be through electoral and political action including defeating Republican Tea Party reaction in 2012. We can also play a role in offering more advanced programmatic ideas like nationalizing the banks and socialism.”

But I digress…now the “Protest” is without a home; kicked out of the lush, green space of Centennial Park and then from the limestone steps of the downtown Court House, so what is the point of occupying a church and a pre-school, invitation or not? Doesn’t anyone have homes?

As I survey the place at 11 o’clock at night, this serene, lake-side setting isn’t the spot for a protest – there’s no one around to protest to – and so I wax philosophical: If an Occupier protested in the woods and there was no one around to hear it, would he make a sound? Hmmmm….

 Admittedly, my impromptu interview was more challenging than I anticipated – The small group is talkative but it’s hard to glean a concise answer from anyone. It seems the word, “Occupy” combined with a question mark brings out the philosopher in everyone:

 “We sit here in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice,” decries Anthony Daniel Leichtweiss, a 20-year-old computer technician and the group’s self-anointed leader.

 As soon as I arrive, Daniel takes on the role of wise sage, making numerous attempts to educate me: “We are not anarchists. We are peaceful. We are here because we want to be lawful. Congress is the problem. Lobbyists are the problem. Lobbyists are a disgrace to say, ‘Because I have more money than you, I have more right to say what should happen than you do.’”

 He starts to repeat his quote about solidarity but then admits that it’s not his and he’s “too drunk” to remember who said it. “Google Keith Olberman and you’ll find it,” he said. I made a note.

 Daniel describes himself as a, “staunch conservative and defender of the free market,” yet he’s seemingly unaware and unconcerned when fellow Facebook Occupiers like Slagle Reeves say, “You must have a wealth tax or levy (would work like residential property taxes) if you want to transfer any substantial amount of their wealth into the public coffers.”

 Meanwhile, Constance, back from her “female” mission, doesn’t seem to care about Congress or Lobbyists. She explains that she’s part of the movement because she was accepted to the famed Ringling College of Arts in Sarasota, Florida, but it costs $26,000 per semester and she can’t afford it:

 “It’s really nearly impossible to support yourself and start a life, especially if you’re young,” she says. “So who’s responsible?” I ask. “Everyone in decision making,” says Constance, “Politicians are too concerned with global issues and weapons. It’s the corporations using money to persuade decisions in their favor.”

 A 53-year-old man who declined to give his name approached and offered a solution to the whole mess: “What you gotta do is get government officials to take a six-month salary holiday and that money goes directly to feed, clothe and employ the homeless.”

 Still determined to find a unified purpose for camping in a nature preserve where no one sees you and calling it a protest, I ask, “Why, ‘Occupy’ and not, ‘The Tea Party?’ What’s the difference?”  Daniel is quick to answer for the small group who are now circled around me, offering water, a better chair, or anything else I may need to feel comfortable. “The Tea Party is full of affluent people – they have security.”

 That’s when Gail speaks up – a self-described ‘homeless’ person, who was hailed by the camp as the best human being in the bunch, helping to cook, clean, haul trash or whatever is needed. “The government owes me four thousand dollars,” she said, as she sat by her plastic box of newly captured frogs and explained that her female lover had held her hostage to collect her social security check until she realized that she only moved in with her during a bi-polar episode and that she’s really not gay. Now Gail’s homeless but “Occupy” is her new home.

 There’s no doubt that Gail and anyone like her are in grave need of help but I still had to ask how the government was responsible for the fact that her ex-lover de-frauded her out of her benefits. Amidst a barrage of comments – some on-topic and others, like Constance, going back to her arrest story, were completely off – I appealed to the crowd:

 “Look, you guys are all obviously putting out a lot of effort to keep this movement going: displaced from your homes, your jobs, and your real lives – how long can you go on like this – camping around town to make some point?”

 “We can do it forever,” says the anonymous man, “Why does it have to end? We can go on indefinitely.”


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