For nine days, Occupiers in Ft. Myers, Florida, took over the grounds of a Unitarian Universalist church and an adjoining preschool, 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 of the elders felt obligated to inform the staff of Creative Minds Montessori School, which rents permanent classroom facilities there.
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. Some 40 Occupiers were comfortably established in tents with a full array of food, coolers, grills, music, and electric lights supplied by the church, and people consumed alcohol and marijuana just feet from the preschool where children were to play outside.
In addition, the arrest records of a number of protesters drew concern from both parents and school faculty, a concern completely overlooked by the church elders who invited the group to camp out near a preschool without thinking to check criminal backgrounds or the state’s pedophile database.
One of the church’s new waterfront guests was Constance Galati, 21, who was arrested the week prior. She was charged with trespassing, resisting an officer, and battery on an officer the night their original demonstration was broken up at Centennial Park.
When Galati posted her disdain for the cops on her Facebook page, fellow 22-year-old Occupier Ryan Komosinski posted on her wall:
I’m bombing the FMPD, f*** them.
Komosinski was subsequently the second arrest that week.
Like their Occupy counterparts in other states, the Ft. Myers Occupy crowd began with a huge dose of blind gusto back on October 15. Erica Martin bathed 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.
Asked concerned citizen Steve White on the Occupy Ft. Myers Facebook page:
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?
Fortunately for Steve, it was “cool with everybody.”
I stopped by one night to see what the “Occupy Movement” was all about in Ft. Myers, and what they thought about a preschool being so near to their latest encampment. What is the point of occupying a church and a preschool, invitation or not?
One of the first people I ran into was Galati, her face painted with colorful designs. With slurred speech, she was eager to tell me the whole story of her arrest, yet her earnest but rambling defense degraded into an announcement that she really needed “to find a tampon.” Off she went.
Just as their Facebook page said, the camp was full of amenities. Said Arete, another 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!
The 15 or so diehards who remained overnight were more than accommodating and almost desperate to explain their angst to anyone who would listen. I decided I would listen, and pulled up one of the many donated chairs to take notes. My impromptu interview was more challenging than I anticipated: the small group is talkative, but it’s hard to get a concise answer from anyone. It seems the word “Occupy” combined with a question mark brings out the philosopher in everyone. Decried Anthony Daniel Leichtweiss, a 20-year-old computer technician and the group’s self-anointed leader:
We sit here in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice.
Daniel took 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 started to repeat his quote about solidarity … but then admitted it wasn’t his and that he was “too drunk” to remember who said it:
Google Keith Olbermann and you’ll find it.
I made a note.
Daniel described himself as a “staunch conservative and defender of the free market,” yet he was seemingly unaware and unconcerned that 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.
Constance returned from her “female” mission. She didn’t seem to care about Congress or lobbyists — she explained 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.
“So who’s responsible?” I asked.
Everyone in decision-making. … 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.
I asked: “Why ‘Occupy’ and not the Tea Party? What’s the difference?” Daniel is quick to answer for the small group 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 bipolar 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 defrauded her out of her benefits. Amidst a barrage of comments — some on-topic and others, like Constance going back to her arrest story, 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,” said the anonymous man. “Why does it have to end? We can go on indefinitely.”
I surveyed the place at 11 p.m., and wondered if I was the only one to think the serene, lakeside setting certainly wasn’t the spot for a protest – there was no one around to protest to, except me.
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