Flavor of a Small Town Occupy: The US’s Oldest City Joins Its Newest Movement

kristy Community Development Solutions, Trendspotting

Flavor of a Small Town Occupy: The US’s Oldest City Joins Its Newest Movement
By Rosalinda Sanquiche, Executive Director, Ethical Markets Media (USA and Brazil)

On a recent trip to Washington, DC, I had the remarkable experience of participating in Occupy DC, in the misty rain, under the awning of the National Theatre. Three weeks later, I’ve had the joy of participating in an Occupy in my own town: St. Augustine, FL.

Equally misty, equally as vibrant with our own small town twist. While in DC, I mentioned our planned Occupy St. Augustine, how we’d gotten a city permit, how various community groups and the local college were organizing. My description garnered a bit of a laugh – “getting a permit?” Isn’t that counter to the free spirited activism of the movement?

Well, if a movement is to be free spirited, allow it to be free to manifest in it’s own way, where ever, however, whenever that may be.

Occupy St. Augustine, on Nov. 5, 2011, despite being organized with a city permit and amicable police presence from 1-5 p.m. on Plaza de la Constitucion, shared many of the characteristics of other Occupies. We chanted. We shared stories of woe and a few of hope. We had our 85 year old World War II vet and our 18 year old running for county commissioner.

Our posters held the same messages:
We are the 99%
Where’s my bailout?
No health without wealth
Support our troops
Overturn Citizens United
One nation under greed
Don’t just protest – vote!
President Kennedy: This IS what I can do for my country.
Cure electile dysfunction
Ideas are bullet proof
Congress for Sale

Occupy St. Augustine was attended by over 200 people, both for and against the movement. Members of the Tea Party marched and chanted in costume representative of the city’s heritage. One of their signs, “Government is Not your Daddy,” was countered with “neither is it corporations’.” The Tea Partiers were welcomed with chants of “You are the 99%,” despite one person explaining how wrong OWS is to denigrate the hardworking 1% who are out there with jobs. Given the number of signs which said “I have a job and I still can’t afford healthcare,” or child care or a mortgage, one wonders if the Tea Partier had his percentages backwards. Tea Partiers were also welcomed with “we’re here for you,” a chant hollered to tourists passing on trolleys and motorcycles, even those few who circled the square multiple times to flick off the protestors.

Like all the OWS protests, there were multiple messages addressing the better known calls for peace, against big corporations and government lobbying, demanding higher pay for teachers and nurses and chiding Obama for reneging on promises. Occupy St. Augustine coincide with Bank Transfer Day, the plaza adjacent to Wells Fargo, a staging point for chanting. There were also lesser known messages like that calling to reinstate the draft.

As with the Occupy Wall Street protestors, where amplifiers are not allowed, Occupy St. Augustine followed the pattern of repeating speakers’ message, in solidarity, even though a mic was provided. The day was chilly, peaceful, energized. Older people circled the plaza with canes in hand. Young people circled in masks. Those in between brought their kids, all have a cause; all have a voice.