As a journalist, I was excited about covering Saturday’s Occupy Tampa demonstration at Gaslight Park near the center of the city. I had prepared a poll to determine who the Occupiers’ main political alliances are, obtain their political party registrations and ask a few simple questions regarding their goals and plans for achieving them. That was to be the gist of my OP-ED story, and I was determined to maintain an even keel, politically speaking, even if the event turned ugly.
Considering the current fiery Occupier riots in Rome, other European cities and New York, the potential for violence seemed viable enough that I double-checked the connectors on my Nikon camera’s shoulder strap and wore my running shoes to the event. Happily, it turned out to be a peaceful, if oddly insignificant event.
In hindsight, for me, Occupy Tampa was a bit like watching the 49ers’ recent 48-3 thrashing of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, just substitute the 49ers for socialists and the Bucs for capitalists and the players were just that unbalanced – and the attendance was dreadful. There are over 4 million people living in the Tampa Bay area and about two hundred showed up by the time General Assembly was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 15. One might be happy or sad about the peaceful protest’s outcome depending on his or her ideologies and political affiliation – but the event was a leftist’s affair, nothing more. I think the only conceivable Republican or conservative-minded soul in attendance was a meter maid issuing a parking citation to a large gas-guzzling pickup truck that had 99 Percent scrawled across its camper-top’s glass window.
One could say the Tampa Occupiers are the Democratic Party’s Tea Party but I witnessed a poorly organized, ineffective hodgepodge of left-leaning activists unable to articulate a clear economic vision beyond levying much higher taxes against Americans who earn the most so that government can spend more on stimulus programs.
As a veteran reporter of an Atlanta Tea Party and one held more recently in The Villages in Florida, it is my opinion that the Occupier’s movement lacks organization, direction and a coherent message. The political chaos and organizational confusion that I saw at the Occupy Tampa event could quickly lead to dangerous mayhem, as it already has in Rome and other places. Regarding my poll, it was a futile effort. Not one person answered “Republican.” Most claimed to be open minded. Many said they were Independents but usually vote for Democrats. Most said they were Democrats. There is too little political diversity in the Occupiers which speaks volumes to their lack of credibility with most Americans.
John Wilshusen came to Occupy Tampa Saturday sincerely seeking answers. He has kind, thoughtful eyes and seemed intelligent enough. But within moments it was clear that he was a political activist.
“This is our Arab Spring. People all around the world are fed up; we’ve had enough. We don’t have the all answers, but at least we are asking the right questions,” said Wilshusen. “We’ve got to rise up against corporate indulgence and distribute wealth more equally.”
The redistribution of wealth concept sounded familiar but John went on.
“Do you realize CEOs in the U.S. make 500 times more than their average employees? In Britain they make 50 times the workers’ salaries and in Japan CEOs make 30 times more.”
I asked John if he thought limiting pay for CEOs would create a significant amount of jobs and if such legislation is a main plank of the Occupier’s platform, to which he replied affirmatively. Finally, Wilshunsen described himself, somewhat sheepishly, as being more of a socialist than a capitalist. He failed to offer any coherent plan for job creation beyond tax hikes and wage controls.
Rex Lettau, 65, a retired Post Office employee, said he came to Occupy Tampa because it was the “right thing to do.” I’m sure he didn’t mean “right” as in the political spectrum. Lettau claims he is concerned for the youth and the future of a country where corporate greed has run amuck.
“This is the workers’ Arab Spring,” he said – the most popular phrase of the day.
Lettau is a pleasant man who probably has many friends. His career with the post office likely permits him a sizable pension, even if it is paid for on the backs of private industry workers, many who receive no pensions at all.
As for Post Office management verses corporate greed, Lettau might want to thank corporate workers who are currently paying for his retirement since the U.S. Post Office incurred $8 billion in debt during fiscal year 2010 and is expecting to produce another $10 billion deficit in fiscal year 2011.
Federal law mandates USPS to prepay its employee benefits, which costs the postal service $5.5 billion annually. USPS is considering shuddering post offices all over the country, meaning fewer post office employees, and a reduction in services to consumers – largely due to that $5.5 billion in pension benefits received by retired postal workers like Lettau.
Until Occupy Tampa leadership is able to articulate a vision that includes a path to success for a troubled economy and true healing for a politically polarized nation that addresses corporate and government greed, the organization will be ineffective and generally unpopular with average folks.
Get your act together Occupy Tampa, or leave the invasion and occupation of Tampa to the Ye Mystic Krew of Gasparilla.