Occupy Tampa: Life on the Sidewalk

TAMPA (2011-10-25) -

The chants and rallying cries at Occupy Tampa are the same that you're bound to hear at any of the Occupy protests around the country.

"We are the 99%. We got sold out, banks got bailed out. The people united will never be divided."

If you stop at Curtis Hixon Waterfront park to speak with any of the young people holding signs, crouched in folding chairs, or curled up on the grass, another slogan is bound to emerge.

"I do not speak for the group," said Ashley, a 26 year old college graduate who has camped out in the downtown park for almost a month. She's proud of the democratic nature of the protest, where everyone has a voice.

"What's cool about the General Assembly format is that if there are a thousand people screaming 'Yes!' and one guy in the back going 'Ah, you know, I'm not totally sold on this,' the group does not go through with it until we reach a compromise that works for everyone," said Ashley.

One of those unanimous decisions led to the arrest of six protestors last Friday morning, when the group refused to clear the sidewalk they had been sleeping on for most of October. Skyler Winslow, a 22 year old student and delivery driver,said they agreed the night before that they would not move when the police showed up in the morning.

"We had spoken the night before about if the cops showed up to wake us up at six that we were not going to move and we had people that were still asleep an still dedicated to that. A bunch of us laid down with them in support. The cops pretty much picked and chose who they wanted," said Winslow. He was released from jail the same day and went right back to the protest.

Ashley says she fought for weeks to keep Occupy Tampa from breaking any laws, but believes now that a little civil disobedience is necessary.

"It takes people getting arrested, for sure," said Ashley. "Otherwise they're going to do what they've been doing and come out and use the laws that have been placed there for homeless people- because the law that you can't sleep on the sidewalk is not there for you and me. It's there for the homeless guys because, even though they're not doing anything to help them, they don't want to have to look at them."

Homeless people are welcome at Occupy Tampa. They receive food and company in exchange for insider knowledge such as where to find a bathroom near the park in the middle of the night, and how to stay comfortable sleeping on the ground. Andrew Childs works with the homeless for Garden of Grace Ministries in Brandon and Tampa.

"Overall the homeless have nowhere to fit in because they've been neglected, treated like dirt, scum, trash. They're just looked over," said Childs. "The Homeless I talk to out there are celebrating. This is like a rejoicing time for them, because they're part of something. Normally they're not part of nothing."

Ashley invites anyone wanting to support Occupy Tampa or learn more about them to stop by.

"Come down for five minutes and find out what we're about. Come down for two hours and hold a sign. Come down for a weekend and bring the kids, bring your family. The more people are coming out, the more they can not ignore us," said Ashley.

Of course, as always, she doesn't speak for the group.

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