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Occupy movement takes on Florida legislature

Members of the Occupy Florida movement are making their voices heard in Tallahassee. The local group has been living in a camp at the site of the former John’s building about a block from the statehouse. The Tallahassee movement was joined by members from 15 groups across the state on the legislative session’s opening day. Regan McCarthy reports More than 50 Occupy organizers marched and chanted through the halls of the state’s capitol building holding signs reading “I’m not a dirty hippie” and “People over” Profit.

Florida’s state house echoes with the voices of Occupy Florida members from cities spanning the state. Mikey Hex is a member of Occupy Orlando and says he’s come to Tallahassee because he wants to be certain his voice is heard. He says citizens have had a hard time making the federal government hear them.                                                                            

“Since trying to go to the Federal government takes a long time we decided to start going to our local county, city and state governments first. That’s where to really make local change and that’s where we’re going first to take care of those local problems.”

Mikey says his Orlando group came up with a number of goals they’d like to accomplish and then worked to combine that with lists from other groups around the state.

“Over the last three months we’ve been having people’s conventions. We’ve been hashing out what we want as a group as a movement. We then took those to Tallahassee and the group that met that represented the other cities got together and went over the list of things that we planned to address with our representatives here. So we’ve been working on this for months to actually have a list of about 10 items that we all felt were good enough to bring forward to say these are some of the issues that we see that we need to take care of.”

Hex says most of those items broadly refer to issues of equality. Occupy Tallahassee’s website lists goals like closing any business tax loopholes and reallocating money to human services, or finding more funding for environmental causes.  Randy Heaton, a member of the Occupy Tallahassee group says there’s a reason the group’s goals don’t get very specific.

“Most of the grievances are broad in scope because the group is so large that you couldn’t possibly come to consensus on something extremely specific. So most of them are very broad things that speak to rights of the impoverished, rights of women…”

Occupy Tallahassee has set up a campsite just steps from the capitol building with 10 or so tents along with other living quarters like a re-purposed school bus with a mural for occupy Florida painted in gray on the side. Paul Prestarri has been living with the for quite some time.

“Eventually it got too cold, so about I moved into a house, for a month in a half I was living in a tent and going to two jobs everyday because I care about this that much.”

Prestarri says what he really wants to get out of the capital protest is to show lawmakers how much he cares.

“While they’ve been resting and spending time with their families, some of us spent Christmas at Occupy. We were there doing what I think matters and I think this matters. Not necessary that a message be sent in particular, but just that they see we are here standing in solidarity.”

Representative Dwight Bullard, a Democrat from Miami, says that’s clear to him.

“I think their request is very simple. They want us to take a pragmatic and practical view about how we conduct business. They’re feeling slighted and disrespected in terms of the cuts that have been offered up by legislative leadership over the last several years. If we’re going to truly do an exercise over what’s priority here in the state, all things need to be taken into consideration, including how adversely things affect those that represent the 99-percent.”

But Representative Scott Plankon, a Republican from Longwood says from his point of view that’s not so obvious.

“I appreciate them coming up and making their voices heard, but I don’t think screaming and yelling at people I don’t think has a part in the process. I prefer to sit down and talk to people. In fact, I invited them to come to my office and they never showed up. I was really disappointed with that.”

Other lawmakers gave the group thumbs up signs and even advice as protesters waited outside the House chambers on the legislature’s opening day.

Occupy protesters aren’t the only ones working to ensure their voices are heard. Members of the Tea Party and groups like Awake the state are also gathering in Tallahassee for protests and rallies as the legislative session kicks off.