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(en) US, Miami, Florida Anarchist Organizing report-back

Date Fri, 12 Jan 2007 22:12:25 +0200


ORGANIZING workshop at the 2007 South Florida Radical Activist Conference
The workshop was originally billed as "Southeast Anarchist Organizing", but since virtually all of the 30+ people that attended were from Florida, talk mostly focused on organizing activities within this state. There were people attending from many different towns and cities in Florida (Orlando, Gainesville, Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Miami, Lake Worth, Ft. Lauderdale) who participated in a lively discussion of anarchist organization in Florida and in the Southeast, either conceived by folks as an informal network of collectives, friendships and personal relationships that for the most part already exists but can be expanded, and one that largely helped to coordinate the conference, or through reviving attempts at more formal organization, in the style of anarchist networks like the Southeast Anarchist Network (SEANET) and Florida Radical Activist Network (FRAN) that existed years ago.

Both SEANET and FRAN, the latter consisting of a slightly older generation of anarchists, organized several gatherings in different cities throughout the Southeast and Florida respectively during their time, and shared and coordinated projects and groups such as Food Not Bombs collectives, independent media, Anarchist Black Cross chapters, infoshops and radical cultural centers such as Civic Media Center (Gainesville), Stone Soup Collective (Orlando, defunct) and Center Of Radical Empowerment (St. Petersburg, defunct), anarchist contingents at demonstrations and events, collective writing projects, etc. but ended up petering out over the years.

We shared ideas on why attempts at organization (beyond the local collective or affinity group) such as these have so often fallen apart in the past, and brainstormed ways to remain fresh and relevant, and how best to coordinate all our efforts so as to be more effective, without replicating some of the problems that contributed to the demise of these other organizations.

Report-backs

[Some of the following information, such as EF! actions, the anti-Nazi march in Orlando, and the Take Back the Land! project, were not mentioned explicitly at the workshop, but I am including them here to give folks a brief introduction to some of the more inspiring and creative projects Florida anarchists have been engaged in over the past year.]

Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Orlando

Phil Jasen of Students for a Democratic Society at the University of Central Florida spoke first and gave a brief overview of the history of SDS as a male-dominated, predominantly Marxist-Leninist organization. He explained that the "new SDS" that was revived in the last two years is solidly based on anti-authoritarian principles, and local SDS collectives in the U.S. are organized on a horizontal, participatory, and non-hierarchical basis.

The Orlando chapter of SDS is one of the most organized and active in the southern United States. Counter-military recruitment has been a main priority, and students have organized several creative actions at the school against U.S. imperialism and the war in Iraq, including a high-profile disruption of Governor Jeb Bush’s speech by UCF students last year. SDS has also organized a Free Store at the school, distributing free food, books, clothing, and other supplies to anyone who might need them. There was some discussion of the patriachal legacy of SDS, and how the Orlando chapter is making a conscious effort to address issues of gender equality and inclusiveness through organizational caucuses of women, queer folks and people of color.

Orlando Food Not Bombs

East Orlando Food Not Bombs gave a report-back on some of the latest issues surrounding gentrification and the criminalization of homelessness in their city. Orlando Police have been harassing and arresting homeless people in the downtown area for sleeping outside or under bridges, and in many cases stealing their belongings. The homeless in Orlando are forced to sleep (and share Food Not Bombs meals) in a closed-off industrial zone called Sylvia Lane that smells like industrial waste and has no hot water, which means there's no way to wash one's hands after using the bathroom, raising sanitary concerns when food is being handled and consumed.

He also talked about the City of Orlando's Anti-Food Sharing Ordinance against Food Not Bombs, which forbids large group feedings in public parks without a permit, limiting permits to two per user per park in a 12 month period. A grassroots coalition has formed in the past few months to fight the ordinance called Stop The Ordinance Partnership (S.T.O.P.), with groups participating in the coalition such as Orlando Food Not Bombs, ACORN, First Vagabond Church of God (a homeless church in downtown Orlando), Code Pink, National Organization for Women, Young Communist League, SDS, and several religious organizations. S.T.O.P. have organized rallies at City Hall along with local homeless folks, and have also organized large food sharings, with many of the above mentioned groups joining Food Not Bombs in cooking and sharing meals.

Orlando Anti-Nazi March, February 25, 2006

Not mentioned at the workshop, but by far one of the most intense moments for Florida anarchists in the past year was the planned National Socialist Movement, or NSM, march through the predominantly African-American Paramorre neighborhood in downtown Orlando. The planned march route would pass through an NAACP regional office, an African-American bookstore, and a mosque. The Nazis' stated aim was to call attention to the problems of "gang violence", "crime", and "illegal immigration". NSM are the largest neo-Nazi party in the United States and have roots back to the American Nazi Party under George Lincoln Rockwell. Since the time of the Orlando rally last February, NSM have split up due to factional disputes and the group has since fallen into disarray.

While city officials and religious leaders were urging people to "ignore" the Nazis, because "all they want is attention", anarchists from around Florida mobilized to directly confront them and show them up for the cowards they are. About a dozen Nazis were there, seig-heiling and donning World War II German uniforms, complete with red arm patches bearing swastikas, while they were protected every step of the way by 300 of Orlando's "Boys in Blue" from various agencies, including a SWAT team that had their guns aimed at the anti-fascists the entire time.

Before the planned march through Paramore was to begin, the black bloc came onto the scene with over 30 comrades wearing black clothing and covering their faces with black masks. This tactic was used in order to protect the identities of the anti-fascists from being known to the NSM, who often post photos and video of known anti-fascists on their websites and encourage their followers to target the anti-fascists for harassment and violence. Plus, it seemed to have scared the Nazis a bit too! We held a beautiful and very visible banner that read "We're Anti-Fascist and We Shoot Back!" Some folks sang Woody Guthrie's classic anti-fascist anthem from the 1930's, "All You Fascists Bound to Lose". The entire time, the bloc did not initiate any violence against the police or the Nazis and were engaged only in what are supposed to be legal, constitutionally-permitted First Amendment activities: holding banners, drumming and chanting.

The riot police, some of whom were on horseback, must have not liked this sight as much as we did. They began immediately pushing the crowd back and provoking extreme force and brutality against the bloc, including trampling a young woman with a horse (they broke her collar-bone, and she had to wait hours for any sort of medical treatment while she was screaming in agony in the back of the police van). Another comrade was thrown head-first into the pavement while cops literally beat him on the ground with batons. Others faced less brutal but still painful treatment at the hands of the Orlando police.

In all, 16 anti-fascists from Central and South Florida were arrested that day, the vast majority of them for wearing masks in violation of Florida's "anti-masking ordinance". One neo-Nazi bonehead (wearing all black, and not visibly part of the official NSM contingent) was arrested as well. He was severely injured when he was found to have infiltrated the ranks of the counter-demonstrators. Only one comrade was charged with a felony, the rest with misdemeanors. Two of my friends were picked off the street while we were walking together and arrested for "masking up", even though they clearly were wearing bandanas on their necks at the time, not on their faces. None of the arrested were read their Miranda rights. Sadly, there were no media present at the time to witness the unprovoked police brutality, and no evidentiary footage we could have potentially used against the city.

One of the best outcomes of the anti-Nazi march was that it cemented new friendships and personal relationships between individuals and collectives in Florida. Since that time, anarchists in Orlando and South Florida have been networking with each other more, sharing ideas and literature, and coming together for state-wide actions and events such as the 30+ anarchist bloc at the enormous 2006 May Day/immigrant rights' march in Orlando and the Oaxaca solidarity action at the Mexican consulate in Orlando last November, as well as at the 2007 South Florida Radical Activist Conference in Miami.

We learned what genuine, spontaneous solidarity meant when immediately after we got the word that 16 of our friends were being held in Orlando jail, dozens of us got together and dispersed in small groups through the streets of downtown Orlando, collecting money for our comrades, and ending up with quite a sum!

South Florida Earth First!

Panagioti Tsolkas of Jeaga Earth First! (named after the indigenous inhabitants of what is now known as Palm Beach County) and the Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition (a grassroots community-based coalition of local environmental activists) gave an overview of some of the unique environmental and social problems affecting our local bioregion: the incessant greed and corruption of local developers and politicians, massive unsustainable growth, gentrification & displacement of low-income communities, and the proposed destruction of large parts of the Everglades, in particular the Northeast Everglades Natural Area (NENA).

Florida Power & Light has plans in South Florida for the “West County Energy Center�, a 3,500+ megawatt natural gas power plant located on a 200+ acre site in the Everglades Agricultural Area. The proposed power plant property spans over 200 acres, neighboring both Lion Country Safari and the J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area. It will create 3,000 tons of toxic emissions and particulates released into the atmosphere, nearby neighborhoods and our environment every year; this will have a direct impact covering a 12-mile radius, creating more fossil fuel dependency, unsustainable growth and global warming. Plans are underway for resistance to this monstrous project.

Jeaga Earth First! has been involved in grassroots direct action-based environmental activism for the past several years in South Florida, from organizing a campaign of local community residents and activists against the Scripps Biotech Research Institute’s biotechnology and animal torture facility in Palm Beach County, a project that engages in fraudulent science with huge funding from the Florida Republican Party and Governor Bush, to hosting an International Earth First! Winter Rendezvous in the wilds of Palm Beach a year ago, bringing together radical environmentalists from across the Americas and culminating in a beach party outside the $4-million home of Scripps President Michael Lerner, where several of the 40-or-so picnickers got together and wrote a 200-foot-long message in seaweed: "Fuck Scripps, Go Manipulate Yourself�.

Earth First! also made a scene at the BioFlorida Conference, taking place at the Marriot Hotel in downtown West Palm Beach, with Jeb Bush as a keynote speaker. A banner was dropped from the hotel that read “No Biotech, No Compromise, Scrap Scripps!� Before the conference, several groups of journalist elves got creative by wrapping hundreds of spoof newspaper covers (titled “The Palm Beach Pest�) throughout Palm Beach County, insulting and mocking local politicians, biotech scientists, investors, developers, reporters, the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), and of course themselves. (See the report-back titled “Earth First! Evolution and the 2006 Organizers' Conference: Out of the Primordial Swamps� in Vol. 26 issue 5 of the Earth First! Journal).

Take Back the Land!: Umoja Village in Miami

One of the most inspiring examples of anti-authoritarian organizing in south Florida has been the Take Back the Land project in Liberty City, one of the poorest areas in the state. Miami has been suffering from a severe housing crisis due to city officials’ efforts at gentrification through the destruction of Black and Latino/a neighborhoods and giving away public land to erect condos for the new influx of richer, whiter residents. In one of the most blatant instances, Miami’s Hope VI Plan, which was meant to address the issue of low-income housing in Miami, actually ended up shutting down the Scott-Carver Project’s 851 units of public housing, replacing them with only 80 units.

The City of Miami also has committed outright theft of public money, including millions of dollars slated for low-income housing by the Miami-Dade Housing Agency, in a series of housing scandals that rocked the city last year and resulted in dozens of pissed off residents along with community groups such as Miami Workers Center and LIFFT (Low Income Families Fighting Together) storming County Hall and confronting the city officials directly.

In response to this crisis, on October 30, 2006, a group of organizations and individuals took control of city and county owned land for the benefit of the people. The group, convened by the Center for Pan-African Development but also with the participation of local Black community organizations, homeless groups, and anarchists, took control of vacant land on the corner of 62nd St. and NW 17th Ave., with no permits, permissions or agreements to use the land.

Under the historic settlement known as Pottinger v. City of Miami, decided in 1992, the city’s policy of arresting homeless people for “life-sustaining conduct� on the street (thus making it a crime simply to be without a home on public land) was made illegal. After a brief standoff with Miami police, the Pottinger settlement was discussed and officials recognized the right of neighborhood residents to the use of public land.

The only demand the Take Back the Land! Project is making is for autonomy and self-determination; that the government just leave the village alone entirely, so that they can house, feed, and sustain their own land and community. The project has been growing at an impressive pace thanks to the voluntary efforts, mutual aid and solidarity of so many people.

Since the first day of the Liberty City shantytown, now known as Umoja (“Hope� in Swahili) Village, the project has expanded to include a fully-stocked kitchen, trees and organic gardens planted by volunteers, a children’s area, showers, compost toilets, and over a dozen beautifully created and designed make-shift houses made out of pallets and other scavenged material (earning the village the nickname “Pallet Palace�) filled to capacity, housing more than 40 male and female residents. There have been meals prepared by volunteers every day of the week, children’s activities, and community films, with videos shown on a projector, every Friday night.

Local anti-authoritarians have been involved in the day-to-day life of these activities, and will also be planning coordinated and autonomous actions as part of the “Week-of-Action Against Gentrification and for Low-Income Housing�, planned for January 29-February 3, 2007 in preparation for the Miami SuperBowl, where the city will be spending ridiculous amounts of money to give Miami the appearance of “Open for Business� to prospective real-estate investors and developers.

CoalTrans America conference, Miami

Anarchists from throughout the southeast, including comrades from the Appalachian mountains in West Virginia who are currently resisting “mountaintop removal� coal mining, will also be coming down to Miami in late January and early February in time for the CoalTrans America conference (www.coaltrans.com), which will bring together coal barons from throughout North and South America (Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, US, Canada, etc.) to discuss with one another how to best use legal loopholes and lobbying power (as well as paying off politicians) to further exploit indigenous communities, poor/working class families, and the Earth. Grassroots organizations and autonomous affinity groups from across the southeast are already making plans to head down to Miami for the action.

Some critiques of the workshop and of SFRAC

The South Florida Radical Activist Conference was definitely an anti-authoritarian gathering, with a sprinkling of a few progressives here and there. I must admit that I was quite surprised (and glad) to see the staples of South Florida's radical leftist milieu noticeably absent from the conference. There were no references made to Castro and Chavez (except in a disparaging manner during personal conversations) throughout the conference, and not a single Che t-shirt worn or sold! Yet despite successfully keeping away the blood-sucking parasites of the authoritarian left, we also managed to keep away most people outside of our insulated communities. This, unfortunately, has too often been the case for most anti-authoritarian/anarchist gatherings that I have been to, and the SFRAC was no different.

While there are many things about the conference to applaud and celebrate, the issue of racial and ethnic diversity was sadly not one of them. The conference had a wide array of presenters with some very pressing topics. This aspect of the event was relatively well executed. The skill based workshops, though interesting and useful as they were, tended to largely reflect individual and personal interest. Perhaps other skill shares on organizing, group dynamics, and anti-oppression might have been more challenging and necessary. The importance of such skills becomes painfully obvious when we look at the composition of the event.

The attendees where mostly young, white, and overwhelmingly appeared to be from the anarchist/punk subculture. The event was hosted in Miami, a city well-known, amongst other things, for its racial and ethnic diversity, but most of the people at the conference were white, and not from Miami. How do we step away from our comfort zones? I hope we are not expecting people to simply adapt to ours! These are just some important questions for us to think about as we further engage in anti-authoritarian organizing.

Another issue that remains unclear about the entire event was its purpose, besides informing people on the different struggles being waged in South Florida. I think the conversation of the formation of a South Eastern Anarchist Federation hinted to what might have been one of the greater purposes of this conference, but unfortunately, that conversation failed to produce any concrete goals besides starting another blog or listserve. There was little participation in the dialogue, mostly the same 4 or 5 guys (I was one of them) bringing up points. When the conversation turned towards anarchist or anti-authoritarian organizing, a subject which most people in the room should have had an opinion or experience with, the participation still remained low.

Why were so few people turned onto the conversation, or willing to discuss these matters of anarchist organizing more conceptually? Is this a skill that many anarchists lack? Putting together a Food Not Bombs with 5 of your friends, or kids from the local punk scene, is not the same as organizing with people you may not have such close and personal relationships to. I feel that people should be mentally challenged at these events, pushed to think critically about their ideas and positions.

There should be more participatory workshops that require people to think deeply about why and how we can construct a different world along anti-authoritarian values. More skill-based workshops that expand our conceptual knowledge of the world so that we can be equipped to produce our own analyses and visions, or expand on ones we support. More discussion on organizing for different purposes such as forming a collective or joining a coalition. These are the challenges I foresee for the next South Florida Radical Activist Conference, all of which I believe, with us stepping outside of our comfort zone, can be achieved.

Some helpful websites:

Miami Independent Media Center: http://miami.indymedia.org

South Florida Anarchist Neighborhood: http://www.infoshop.org/wiki/index.php/Anarchist_Neighborhood:Miami

Anarchists of Florida MySpace group:
http://groups.myspace.com/FLAanarchists
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