Last February, when the City of Tampa finally mustered the backbone to evict Occupiers from the public parks where they were illegally squatting, Tampa “porn king” Joe Redner stepped up to play in loco parentis to the protesters. Redner is Tampa’s low-rent version of Larry Flynt: when he isn’t busy peddling young female flesh for cash, he seeks elected offices and collects awards from civil libertarian-types.
Playing sugar daddy to the Occupy movement was therefore a perfect fit. Despite the media’s best efforts to portray it otherwise, the movement was small and dysfunctional. Local columnists might have praised Occupiers for “braving police, hard sidewalks, and cold rain to say things aren’t right,” but television footage of patient-looking police standing by as whiny twenty-somethings shoved their detritus into cardboard boxes told the real story. The police looked no older than the protesters they were evicting, but they had careers and were supporting families. In contrast, the activists came across as too confused or immature to mount any type of “protest” — that is, without a great deal of help from the media. Luckily, the media was more than willing to make up stories about them, in order to re-live their own glory days as protesters.
Relocation to free digs at Joe Redner’s private “Voice of Freedom Park” gave the rag-tag Occupiers a little breathing room. They immediately reciprocated by filling their new urban playground with more junk, to the consternation of their new “neighbors.” Community residents petitioned to have the camp disbanded, complaining of piles of debris, bad smells, and an increase in police calls and homeless activity. ”Slack-you-py Tampa” observed one local. Even Joe Redner finally realized he’d have to kick the kid off the couch and make him look for a real job. Redner announced that the residents of Voice of Freedom park would be evicted on September 15, after the convention.
Meanwhile, no matter how hard local newspapers worked to invent an heroic and articulate Occupy Movement, they came up empty-handed. In July, columnist Sue Carlton abandoned both common sense and decency in a column that exploited an unstable-seeming protester. For unexplained reasons, the middle-aged woman painted a plastic gun with a black magic marker and tried to bring it into a courtroom. She might have precipitated a tragedy with her bizarre stunt, but Carlton did not linger over consequences. Instead, she depicted the woman as a freedom fighter demanding “constitutional rights.” What the plastic gun-toting activist probably needed was mental help, but both Carlton and an ethically challenged “homeless activist” named Bruce Wright egged the woman to “take a stand against oppression” instead.
And so it went. As the rest of the city prepared for the upcoming Republican National Convention, Joe Redner’s Voice of Freedom Camp, and another site dubbed Romneyville, played host to a growing array of mentally-ill homeless people, young druggies, activists typing away at computers, and, as was reported to me by a camp bouncer, gang-bangers from one zip-code looking to fight gang-bangers from another zip-code.
None of this was reported in the papers, although the reporters who regularly paid visits to the camps could not have failed to observe what was happening there; the chaos and the prevalence of homeless in the throes of addiction or mental confusion. But they continued filing stories about bearing witness to a new era of “fighting the man.” Why they bother to show up at all to write such stories is a mystery.
Romneyville borders a freeway underpass near a Salvation Army shelter. Voice of Freedom Park is situated in an economically depressed neighborhood and is surrounded by empty storefronts. There is a shiny-new Metro PCS mobile phone store across the street from the park, but other than that, the businesses are small groceries anchored by large EBT signs.
Everything else that is literally not falling down is owned or directly subsidized by the government: social service agencies, day-care operations, public schools, and public housing. Police patrols protect the protesters from the high crime endemic to the area, and also protect the protesters from each other, because the movement attracts its share of dangerous characters as well.
The activists participating in Occupy the RNC say that they are choosing to live among the “dispossessed” because these are precisely the people they want to encourage to rise up against the Republican overlords “taking food out of children’s mouths.” But like the fake stories written about the movement by local journalists, this message is also a fake one.
As soon as Food Not Bombs moved into VOF Park, they turned the site into a self-important summer camp for their own adolescent preoccupations and hobbies: beer-brewing, puppet-making, endless general assemblies, craft sessions for making furniture out of trash, clown lessons, a scavenger hunt, lectures on things like “Voudou and the Haitian Revolution,” and, most jarringly, a screening of the French art-film, The Gleaners and I, which celebrates the insights of well-off dropouts who choose to dumpster dive in order to express anarchic fellowship with actually poor people who dumpster dive in order to eat.
Not that the Occupiers are dumpster diving. They are relentlessly demanding donations to subsidize their camps and complaining that people aren’t giving them enough money to support their cause.
It is difficult to imagine more offensively self-referential or narcissistic behavior. Occupiers and Food Not Bombers in peasant skirts sit cross-legged decorating bits of scrap metal with poster paint, while homeless men sit on stoops outside boarded-up businesses watching them. In the end, city sanitation workers will clean up after the aging children, and real homeless people will reclaim the park.
We need adults to solve our problems, not these people.
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