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Miami/FTAA Reportback Sunday, Dec. 7, 7pm, 1st Unitarian Church, 12th and Main

It seems like lots of folks want to hear about what happened in lovely Miami for the FTAA protests on and about Nov. 20. Come see pictures and hear first hand reports, as well as an update on the FTAA negotiations!
You've read all about it in the Oregonian (oh wait--they must have missed it), now come hear from folks who were there. First hand reports, in-depth analysis of what worked and what didn't, a slide show, maybe some video, and more.

On Sunday, Dec. 7, 7pm, at the 1st Unitarian Church, 12th and Main, downtown Portland.

(and hopefully the friendly Indymedia editor folks can put this on the top of the page with the FTAA link and the Indymedia video showings--thanks!)
Who's reporting back? 30.Nov.2003 23:27


Who's putting on the report-back? (I'm asking for an organization, if that's applicable -- as in, who do I call for more info?)

Who is reporting back? 01.Dec.2003 00:40

DJ Shadow

The plans for who will be speaking have not yet been finalized (some of us just got back), but I'm certain it will be a good program. Some of the suggested topics so far are: what happened with the FTAA negotiations/FTAA lite; protest and direct action strategies, including the strategic alliance between labor and spokescouncil/direct action planners; Miami's mini police state; where to from here; and much more. We will have a digital slide show and probably some video.

I guess it depends on what more info you are looking for, but in terms of organizations involved, you could contact OPEU, Jobs with Justice, the 1st Unitarian Church, Local to Global, Alliance for Sustainable Jobs and the Environment, and probably a few others I'm forgetting. There were folks from these and other organizations and lots of unaffiliated rabble-rousers.

A report back from a friend of mine to wet your appetite 03.Dec.2003 07:43

rico pobre


On the first of November I finally arrive in Lakeworth FL the home of the "Free Carnival Area of the America's" and the Lakeworth Global Justice group a bunch of young folks, mostly women who have done years of radical community organizing (which includes the famous Jennings sisters, the originators of radical cheerleading (its not just a protest style-they dress like that all the time)). Already the arts warehouse where we will build our puppets and develop theater for the Root Cause march and direct actions against the FTAA is full of young traveling alternative types. But it's Halloween so there are also tons of kids from the neighborhood and their mothers there for face painting and pumpkin decoration. Lakeworth is a small chill ocean side town but some organizers are tense, almost all have been followed and drawn up in gang reports by local police for minor traffic violations.

Over the weekend an Art and Revolution organizer I've driven down with from California gives a puppet-making workshop. Women from a Miami based organization LIFFT (Low Income Families Fighting Together) come to share information on their organizing against the privatization of public housing. From everyone's stories of how the FTAA affects our lives, particularly the communities organizing with the Root Cause coalition, we begin to develop a puppet pageant that shows the rise of colonialism, wage labor and slavery, corporate globalization and how it causes the theft of all things that matter to us, our water, food, air, housing, jobs and right to make desicions about our lives.

The following day a crew of us who speak Spanish have the privilege of going to Immoklee, the home of Coalition of Immoklee Farm Workers, one of the most amazing global justice groups in the US, led by immigrant farm workers from Central America and Haiti. Through their boycott on Taco Bell who buy the tomatoes they pick they have gained international recognition and built alliances with students and global justice groups across the country. Together we brainstormed puppet and banner ideas for coming weeks. While we stapled and painted on one side of the room, organizers from all the Root Cause groups including Power U who fight environmental injustice in Miami and the Workers Center who fight on welfare/work and housing issues met all day to plan their 3 day march into Miami, covering one mile for every country affected by the FTAA. In the evening several Immoklee workers took us for a walk around town, pointing out the yard where people came every morning for temporary employment and the housing where an average of 10-20 people pay exorbitant rates to share small trailers and apartments. The conditions remind me of Central America or Bolivia.

Meanwhile down in Miami, direct action organizers are frantically trying to build an action infrastructure in the tense political environment. Despite Root Cause and Lakeworth group's political work against the police (especially the special ordinance against FTAA protests, which would have banned everything from cameras to puppets), Miami police engage in preemptive arrests and illegal searches of medics and activists for offenses such as "obstructing the side walk".

By the beginning of the Root Cause march the Free Carnival Area of the Americas has drawn in radical puppeteers from all over the south who are committed to working as a cluster on the day of the direct actions. Every day, led by the Immoklee workers, environmental justice and housing activists we march 11-12 miles, drumming and chanting in matching yellow t-shirts. In every town and city residents come out from their storefronts, offices and homes to watch us pass. At night we sleep in church yards and have discussions on movement building and the meaning of solidarity. Day three we march the long stretch into downtown Miami, rallying at the INS and screaming "no one is illegal", then rally at Taco Bell where Immoklee workers and Miami residents speak side by side about the right to a living wage. By the time we rally against the privatization of education it is dusk and we are flanked by rows of riot police on bicycles. We finish at the fence that surrounds the Interconnental Hotel where FTAA delegates will meet. The police in black riot gear look eerie in front of a pink, blue and yellow Christmas village. Local radical musicians play and we perform our pageant about the FTAA with nearly a hundred people.

Wednesday is the last day to prepare for the direct action. The convergence center is packed with young activists from around North America and southern radicals. The AFL-CIO who only 2 weeks before were hostile to the idea of any direct action on the day of their march now send representatives from Jobs with Justice, the Steelworkers and local union leaders to sit through the spokescouncils and work out agreements between the direct action and march so their retirees stay safe and we support each other in the media. One afternoon John Sweeney stops by with a whole contingent and takes pictures with the crusty punks. Spokescouncil energy is focused on the fence, as all planning has been for the last couple months, but plans are still very loose. As the Carnival cluster our main concern is getting our art downtown so we copy the police and "embed" reporters in our trucks to make sure our puppets can arrive at the gathering site the next morning.

Thursday morning we depart in small groups from the convergence center for downtown. The black block marches en masse and never makes it to the rally point. We don't have time to perform but we pass out our puppets and flats about water privatization, housing, immigration, labor issues, a giant liberation sun and bird and monster head of corporate globalization to the crowd, so we are colorful and well messaged. Downtown we stop and rally around the drummers. We spread out through multiple intersections. We don't really have a plan beyond going to the fence. Suddenly the police shift energy and start marching forward very slowly as a giant mass many rows thick, pushing us in. Some affinity groups link arms and try to hold their ground but are beaten and tear gassed forward till we are all at the fence in front of the Intercontinental. The earth cluster do a spiral dance and we parade around with our puppets. At random points police throw tear gas canisters which explode in the crowd. At noon the union buses are arriving down the street and many of us head down to go cheer for the Steelworkers and give shout outs about our five o clock re-convergence at the fence.

After the march my affinity group is lying on the grass with our pile of puppets near the entrance to the stadium where the permitted march is having their after rally. The riot cop line is closer now, blocking us off from the fence. Suddenly a large mass of people, both black block and Canadian steelworkers go forward to rally at the police lines. They respond pretty quickly with some kind of tear gas that's colored yellow or blue. It clears a circle around the police but the wind blows the gases back on them. With the 6 or so helicopters that have been buzzing overhead all day it looks like a scene from some futuristic movie. I'm standing 20 feet away from the center of action taking pictures. Suddenly, quickly I am no longer a spectator and rubber bullets are flying around me hitting the woman next to me in the breast and I break the no running rule. Then the police are sweeping forward en masse across the wide 4 lane blvd., banging their clubs on their shields in rhythm. I'm frantic about the puppets till I see my affinity group sweep down, carrying some into the stadium. I see the union marshals and lead AFL folks frantically herding retirees away from the stadium and I know their presence won't protect us. We take off through the crowds dragging "mother earth", the "vampire landlord" and "indigenous rights" puppets behind us. Away from the frenzy we stop and call the truck to come get us, but suddenly the march and police are on us again and we are all running and dodging through Overtown a low income mostly black neighborhood and I think, oh no, this is exactly the scenario local organizers were worried about. The streets and balconies are full of people watching us go by. Some squadrons of police pass us by—apparently they are targeting those dressed in black not yellow, but they are closing in and large city buses packed with silhouettes of riot cops inside stream around. Finally we request at a corner store to hide our puppets and a man volunteers his backyard. We hurl mother earth over his fence and another local crowd points the way to the metro and we escape.

Friday morning we learn the meetings have ended one day early, while U.S. trade ministers settle for "FTAA Lite" instead of risking the kind of failure they faced in Cancun. This means countries can pick and choose which parts of the agreement they can sign onto and the U.S. can pressure them on an individual basis. The convergence center is full of stories of police brutality, which surprisingly impacted the AFL marchers as well as us, retirees were pepper sprayed and arrested. Indymedia reporters were especially targeted and robbed in Overtown for their footage by men in plainclothes, but who carried taser guns. The convergence center was nearly raided the night before, saved only by the mass presence of the corporate media. Over 200 have been arrested and tons injured, and there is a jail rally and press conference planned for the afternoon. My friend and I make a detour for Overtown to retrieve our puppets. Suddenly we are surrounded by 20 or so cop cars who block our way forward who jump out, shotguns trained on us. We are ordered out on opposite sides of the car and surrounded by our own crews of officers who interrogate us on who we are and what we are doing in Miami, and illegally search the vehicle. At first I only give my name but finally try to ease tensions by saying I'm an artist looking for my puppet I lost. A lead officer replys menancingly "you better forget your puppet ever existed. You better get straight back to your convergence center and not come back. You better make new puppets." (What kind of bad movies have they been watching?) Then they make racist comments about all the Overtown residents, some of whom are observing from their balconies, and say we they are pulling us over to protect us from the "black people who want to kill and rob white kids like you". Similar interrogations, searches and sometimes arrests at gun point are happening around the city at this time and through the week by caravans of police who patrol the city with their sirens blaring.

The terror tactics work, by the afternoon press conference and vigil at the jail I'm shaky and nervous around the nearly 700 riot cops which surround our 200 lively, angry, but peaceful demonstrators. Despite the presence of all the corporate media, our allies from the AFL-CIO and a slew of lawyers the police feel brazen enough to declare it an illegal assembly and give three minutes to disperse. A few folks from my cluster are organizing a civil disobedience sit-in but most of us are fleeing the area (dragging our yellow sun puppet of course). As we go out reinforcements of riot cops in buses are coming in and six helicopters hover over that one spot. After the 5-6 doing civil disobedience are arrested another group of 40-60 attempts to leave, fingers in peace signs chanting "we are dispersing, we are dispersing!" On the news that night I watched them being shoved to the ground and pepper sprayed in the face while at least 6 riot cops surrounded each individual. That evening during our second escape my affinity group and I speak with numerous people about our activities in the Miami. All are sympathetic and interested and warn us about the bloody history of the Miami police. But unlike my hometown of the Bay Area, or Seattle where residents rose up against police excesses, there are few traditions of protest here and so those of us out on the streets get fewer and fewer.

Horror stories start to emerge about the treatment in the jails where across the board most arrestees are held for hours (up to 17) in cuffs that cut off circulation and caused prolonged numbness, many are held in hyper air-conditioning or sealed off paddy wagons where they sweated pepper spray, no water for 12 hours, no food for 20, no phone calls for days. There was pretty much no concept of civil liberties. The sentiment was summed up in incidents such as the police officer who smashed an activist's foot with his boots while processing him, saying "welcome to fucking Miami." But everyone lost it when during a Saturday strategy meeting APOC (Anarchist People of Color) announced that several of their members were being tortured in jail, and that two men were taken and beaten and pepper sprayed in the eyes for hours. We also found out that two men were hospitalized and one had been denied medical attention in jail for over 30 hours. When he tried to plee guilty so he could get out and go to the hospital the judge denied him on the basis that he was only pleeing guilty to get medical attention.

I stay the week doing odd jobs at the legal office such as depressing data entry of police abuse, and jail runs, waiting for new releases. The most interesting post action experience was fliering in Overtown one night. After finally picking up our puppets we walked the streets and passed out fliers, explaining that we were apologizing for bringing police heat through their community and thanking residents for their support (many hid FTAA activists in their homes). People were really receptive and told us about how they face abuse from the Miami police daily, and how its gotten worse with the Patriot Act. Several women told us that it gets worse around Christmas when police round up and arrest tons of people so they can get Christmas bonuses.

I'm writing a lot about the militarization of the police and the repression, more so than the FTAA (we certainly couldn't get near the meetings or debates for the police), but I think its important. Police terrorize communities of color and poor people in this country every day. And many people have seen police abuses at summit protests, especially direct actions. Nonetheless I think what happened in Miami is shift that we should all pay attention to. I agree with Naomi Klein's anaylsis that this increased militarization is connected with the war drive in Iraq. I've spoken with a lot of veteran activists who were shocked by Miami. It felt weird. It didn't feel like we weren't protesters being abused it was like we were enemy combatants (albeit ones they couldn't kill) they were practicing urban warfare techniques on. They were able to get away with a lot because of the climate in Florida and the relatively small activist networks, but I won't be surprised if they try to use these some of these tactics in New York during the Republican National Convention protests and I know the Miami police will use their new toys in Overtown and other working class areas and communities of color. It should also be noted how threatened the police were by APOC and how they tried to crush them with their treatment in jail as well as attacking an APOC event in New York in the weeks before. And police and media tried very hard to separate labor and direct action as the "good" vrs. "bad" protesters, those who had a message, and those who were only trying to destroy the city.

However despite how scared and sad many of us felt by the brutality we saw, I overall think many positive things came out to the FTAA protests. I personally was amazed by the activists I met from Florida, especially the Root Cause organizations and the Lakeworth Global Justice group. We should all give props to those folks for their on-going work in a tough organizing environment. I also think good alliances were built. The Root Cause folks provided important leadership and messaging about who the global justice movement is and who is impacted by corporate globalization and I was glad to see so many affinity groups come and support them. There were strong efforts made to build relationships between direct action groups and the AFL-CIO and alliances came out even stronger because of the indiscriminate police brutality against all on the streets. I was also touched by the courage and strength of all the people who stood up against the police with nothing to protect them, because they know we have to if we want to keep any of the things that matter, and there were a lot of courageous people on the streets of Miami those days. This experience should encourage us to come out again, better organized, in our local work and at the next large direct action.

I hope this experience opens up discussions on how we can organize better for the future. I was not disappointed by the lack of numbers because I know of so many people who do FTAA work in the U.S. who are focused on fighting these policies in their local communities. But in hindsight it seems like we could have made better use of the human resources we had, if our direct action had clearer messages and maybe more creative targets—it was too bad nothing was done at the meeting of the American Business Forum. I've also heard many critiques on the militant tactics and it seems we might have held our space better against the police using civil disobedience tactics such as sit downs. I especially hope this experience opens up a conversation on security culture which permeated a lot of the organizing of this direct action, especially the padded block upon which a lot of the action framework was based. When faced with the full repressive forces of the state including infiltration, it can seem natural to want to close up, be secretive, and protect yourself with pads and shields. But while I don't think we stand a chance to physically take on the state in a military fashion, I do think we have a lot of hope if we look at all the people who are affected by corporate globalization and militarization, and organize in open, inviting ways so we can build a mass movements. Winning the political battle in the media and public debates is the best way to protect ourselves and our direct actions on the streets. When Ya Basta organizes padded actions in Europe they do so openly so gain popular understanding and support for their actions which makes it harder for police to pre-emptively stop them as happened in Miami. Finally, I think the media in Miami was very successful at marginalizing the direct action movement by naming anyone young or in black an "anarchists". While many people identify with this term I think its more important to communicate ideas about beginning against capitalism and for direct democracy and sustainability than holding onto a term which only resonates in certain subcultures. We have beautiful, important messages to communicate, lets think of creative, inspiring ways to do so with our messages and actions.