By Jay Shaft-Coalition For Free Thought In Media
In the midst of Miami's chaos the homeless were fed by several groups that I have heard from. I got together with a group of activists from St. Petersburg, FL on Tuesday night after the Root Cause concert and rally. We met up at the convergence center and spent the night in a van in the Walgreens parking lot on US 1.
In our group was a minister and two of his parishioners who have a long history of helping the homeless. We were joined by a father and his teenage son the next day when we went down to the convergence center so I could file a story on the IMC web site. I am the director of community outreach for Mid Pinellas Homeless Outreach in St Petersburg. All of us in the group have been politiacally active and have taken part in helping the homeless and poor for a number of years now.
We loaded up on stickers, fliers, and newspapers with information on the FTAA protests. We had plans to go around and sticker and pass out information on why we were protesting the FTAA conference. We hoped to raise publc awareness about the evils of FTAA while doing something piositive for the large street population of Miami.
Miami officially has a street population of at least 15,000 and I am sure there are many more homeless out there who have never been counted in any survey. Metro Dade county is also the poorest county in the US and Miami is the poorest city per capita.
Pastor Bruce had the idea of going around feeding the homeless before some of the days protests started and we all agreed it would be a worthwhile cause. We also had the idea of guerrilla stickering public buildings, phone booths and other things while we were going around doing the feedings.
On Wed. the 19th we went to Publix (corporate union busting rat's nest) because it was the only grocery store we could find on US 1. While I was in the store shopping the others in the group went around putting fliers on cars, stickering the phones and talking to people.
When I was going back into the store to gt some smokes two security gaurds assigned to protect the store asked me for more information about FTAA. I thought they were just busting my chops, but they were quite sincere in their efforts to figure out why we all opposed something they thought was a free trade agreement.
After I talked to them for about ten minutes they made some comments on the fact that it seemed like a bogus deal for workers in America and the rest of the countries involved. Both of the guards were minorities, and got extremely angry when I detailed how FTAA would affect the immigrant workers and poor of the Americas by preventing them from getting a fair wage and forming unions.
It seemed like they were completely against the FTAA when we left the store. I hope they checked out the websites and information on the Stop FTAA site and other sites I tiold them about.
We had purchased enough bread, baloney, and sodas to feed about 100 people. We got the supplies ready to make the sandwiches and proceeded to roll around Miami looking for homeless people to feed.
In the midst of making the sandwiches we engaged in guerrilla stickering of various store fronts and phone booths with the pink Stop The FTAA stickers. We also put CAPITALISM-LIFE NOT PROFIT-RESIST THE FTAA-COOPERATION NOT COMPETITION stickers on lots of stop signs. The result was a nice red STOP CAPITALISM sign for all the motorists to think about.
Anything to make the people think about what was really happening in Miami and the reasons to stop FTAA.
We took some papers that outlined the reasons for protesting FTAA into some small businesses and most of the people were very enthusiastic about receiving them and agreed to hand them out. We hit the main drag in the fashion district and two of us ran up and down the street plastering the pink stickers on every surface they would stick to. After one business owner came out and called the cops we made a hasty retreat from the area and decided to find some homeless people to feed.
We drove around downtown for about half an hour, but intense police presence made us decide to go out to Miami Beach where I knew about a concentration of homeless in several beach front parks. When we got to the beach we hit several parks looking for the homeless and people in need of a meal. At the first park we stickered a lot of parking meters,a phone booth, and plastered a parking enforcement truck with several stickers.
We found one guy at the first park and gave him a sandwich and soda and listened to him give us his unique views on politics. He was very politically aware but had some obvious mental problems as many homeless people do. It is often these mental problems that lead to them becoming homeless and unable to get a steady supply of medication or any kind of help or support to help them cope with their problems.
After we asked one of the meter enforcement guys where to find the biggest concentration of homeless people we went down to 20th St. and Collins Ave. We found about ten homeless people there in Collins Park and passed out more sandwiches and sodas. The joy on those peoples faces when they saw us feeding them was one of my biggest rewards I got out of coming to Miami.
We went down the boardwalk and through the park and stickered as many things as we could. I put a bunch of stickers on an emergency call box so it read Emergency-The FTAA is a threat to democracy, people, and the planet. I gave a bunch of stickers to a Miami beach resident who went on down the boardwalk madly stickering any flat surface with a happy grin on his face. The guy was a middle class office slump who was completely aware of how bad the FTAA was and what Bush was doing to America with his leadership.
We gave out a bunch of papers and flayers to the people in the park and did our part to talk to the tourists who appeared puzzled by our activities. One guy read the flier I gave him and said "Fuck the FTAA". His wife said she lost her job to cutbacks, but then the company hired 10,000 new employees overseas at 15 cents an hour.
While we were driving down Collins we were followed by a whole battalion of Florida Highway Patrol motorcycle cops and we saw cop cars all over the beach. The police presence was massive and very ominous in it's totality. We were afraid we had been observed stickering and were worried about being pulled over. The cops stayed on our tail for about a mile and then roared around us and gave us very hard looks.
At a stoplight we saw a guy selling the Miami Herald to motorists and one of our group ran out and gave him a sandwich and soda. He couldn't believe we were actually feeding anyone for free and thought we were trying to sell him the food. The smile on his face when he realized we were giving him a meal out of love and caring stretched from ear to ear.
We got to the other park on 15th St.(Lummus Park) and proceeded to go through the park and feed all the people who wanted the food. We had enough time to talk to a big group of homeless people about who bad the homeless problem was in Miami. We gave them all information and got some very positive responses. It was amazing how much the street population knew about why we were protesting FTAA and many had lost jobs in the last year to overseas markets.
We tried to sticker the park but a cop on a bike had us under watch form the time we went got out of the van. One of us did manage to sticker a phone booth right in front of the cop, while pretending to make a phone call. The cop sat within twenty feet of us while we were waiting for the van to come back from feeding the other half of the park.
We ran out of sandwiches about halfway through the park and had to stop and make more. At first we didn't think we would find enough people to give our food to, but we definitely hit the right places to feed at.
I gave a homeless squatter punk about 200 stickers and told him to be safe and go to it. From the gleam in his eye I know some cop cars and city vehicles became a billboard against capitalism. He told me he would make sure to sitcker every cop car he could get close to, and from some reports I have, he did it.
It was funny watching the cop try to keep up with the van after we jumped into it to feed the people in the last little stretch of the park. When we parked the van and got out to use the bathroom and finish feeding we had at least ten cops watching us. We gave out the rest of the sandwiches we had made up, passed out our information, and decided to go back downtown to find some more homeless people to feed.
We went back downtown and tried to make several of the protests like the Students Against Sweatshops march and to talk to some AFL/CIO workers before they had their rally. We found a nice little pizza place down the street from the Florida Fair Trade Coalition's downtown information center and then decided to drop in to the info center. I was going to write a piece for IMC but we got a report of the Sweatshop march being broken up and students being arrested.
We quickly tried to get over to the corner of 1st and 2nd to try and get pictures of the cops taking the students to jail. We just missed the activity and I broke off from our group and went over to the Metro Rail station at the government center to talk to the students that were gathering outside in solidarity with the arrested protesters.
I think we missed the raid on the FFTC info center by about five minutes and I wish I had been there to get pictures and document the raid. I was trying to get back over there after someone from IMC got as phone call and I got tied up when the police attempted to arrest the young activists across the street form the AFL/CIO United Steel Workers conference. It looks like the police timed the raid with the attempted arrest so that the steelworkers and other activists would be kept occupied and unaware of the raid on the info center just down the street.
I was even fooled by this and had to run back around the block to get a good vantage point among the steel workers. I wish I had kept going to the next block and tried to document the raid on the info center. But I took the bait of the street corner arrests and stayed there to document the hassling of some innocent kids from Minnesota.
I had been walking up behind the kids they hassled and saw the whole incident that led to the corner confrontation. The kids picked up a coconut and and carried it for about half a block and then the guy carrying the coconut put it down on a payphone booth. There is no way the cops could have mistaken the coconut for anything but a coconut. I heard the cops saying the kids had planted a bomb or an explosive device.
After about an hour the police let the kids go free and in the confusion of trying to get an interview with the actvists, many IMC reporters missed the fact that the info center was being raided. I never even got close to the info center because I had found my group mixed in with the steel workers giving the cops hell. We regrouped and did some interviews about what we had seen and we got some great pictures of the cops swarming the crowd and hassling the kids. I will post them to the IMC when I get copies.
In all the confusion of trying to get close to the cops when they massed on the kids, I was grabbed by several cops and my film was taken out of my camera and put in my hand. They exposed a whole roll of film that was taken on the beach and of things we stickered. Unfortunately no one else was taking any pictures in the morning so we lost some really great pictures.
We decided to go over to the Communist Party meeting on Socialism and on the way we found a bunch of homeless gathered on a side street and gave out the last of our sandwiches and sodas. We then went and heard some great speakers and I got to meet the head of the Venezuelan Workers Party as well as the head of the US Communist Party and other important figures in communism.
I am not really a communist but I have many views on socialism and social justice and activism that are shared by Marxists, communists, and socialists all over the world. It was very nice to know I was among very dedicated social progressives from all over the Americas. We were all curious about the message the communists would have and how they would go about having a meeting.
We finished our day out by going to the Tell Us The Truth rally and had a great time. I got a chance to speak with Billy Bragg and some excellent activists from all over the world who were gathered to speak and listen to the music.
In the midst of all the chaos and police brutality we tried to bring some love and compassion to the streets of Miami and give a little hope to the homeless and poor. I think that we showed some people a few reasons to oppose FTAA when we gave out the info and talked to them.. Some of my friends that were in Miami also went around doing feedings during the days they were in town for the protests.
I had sent an e-mail out to some of the people I know went to Miami and now I have reports of at least ten groups doing street feedings. In light of all the bad things that went on in Miami there were some very kind and positive acts committed.
If anyone has any pictures of the cop cars or city vehicles with the Stop FTAA stickers on them send me an e-mail. I had all my best pictures get ruined by some fascist cops, and I would like some pictures for my news group files.
Jay Shaft, Editor, Coalition For Free Thought In Media
News Group Home: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/coalitionforfreethoughtinmedia/