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Last RNC Post: Hello Charlotte!
Let’s do an exercise 5 words that describe the RNC: Heartbreaking,police,love,laughter and exhaustion. I”ll let that form this post.
But not limit it.
I stayed at Romneyville. I think I stayed their expecting the demographic to be slightly different than the Occupy Tampa camp, but I must be honest, I didn’t visit that other camp, and have no way of placing it’s size, or effectiveness. My experience with RNC’s or conventions in general is always a struggle. Local Organizers fighting to provide housing and open space for participation, while authorities interfere with every logistical call. This one was a strange one.
My experience here was different. It seemed like there was little for folks to plug into besides the standard protest march. Example: One person spoke to me and explained that they attended a Rally where people spoke for an hour, each repeating the same points. They then marched in a circle ending back up at where they started to experience the same speeches again.
Coming out of Occupy Wall Street, I think the one thing we learned, or the thing I hoped people learned was that people want to be heard, not preached too. The effectiveness of union organizers lambasting their unions about what they already believed is…charming, at best.
Regardless, it was interesting to see so many people screaming about the injustice of the GOP, and ignore the hypocrisy of the democrats. I guess it’s nice to be able to see a line and choose a side. Maybe, I’m not enlightened enough.
The people in Romneyville were sorted. I keep coming back to this old man in a wheelchair, his watery eyes shifting as they registered the world around him. I never spoke to him, but watched him pull himself around, edging his only working leg forward, and digging his heel into the ground and pulling his body along. I saw him for a week huddled under the shade of the trees mixed in with Occupy kids from Nyc, from Tampa, from Austin, from parts unknown. He sat in that shade and saw a world I probably couldn’t come close to seeing.
That’s what ended up driving this trip for me, was trying to uncover those perceptions that aren’t voiced, that are lost in the haze of our society, in the static and noise of conventions and phalanx of police, in the shouts for justice and the drumming of feet and laughter. Somewhere in there is a snippet of truth that needs to be allowed space.
In the end, I came to the RNC to listen to the murmur of Tampa Bay. I told one person in the camp that `I didn’t care about the RNC. I don’t care about that show over there. I came here to listen to the city. I didn’t stream as much as I’d like, because so few people outside of the camp wanted to be video taped. So I sat in small diners on the verge of closing as a women who’d been part of that business since 1962 explained that she was almost lost. That there was little she felt she could do. I came to know this women only because of chance.
I walked with @occupymusician and a fellow videographer Josh. We were going to Ybor city where the bars were teeming with people and the streets clogged with cars. The sidewalks were cracked and to my right rose a development of new condo’s and land for sale with suggestions for hotels and condiminiums. On my left where shotgun houses that sat squat and extended away from the rising apartment buildings. Some with tin roofs streaked with rust.
The air so thick and humid that my sweat just pooled along my skin unable to evaporate. Little traffic on the street,but one lone car crawled towards us. This African-American women with an ageless face and a motherly flower dress leaned towards us over the passenger seat. She pulled over to us and told us she needed help. Help me. She said, “ They came on my land, they came on my land because I let the protesters park on it. I was only charging them five dollars to park and the city came on and told me to charge them ten. Then told me to not let them park there. They told me that it wasn’t my land, that the city owned it. I have my paperwork, I have it right here, and they tell me it’s there land. I’m so… No one is coming to eat anymore. The police are in my backyard and they never have come and eat at my restaurant,” she stuttered in wet breaths and wept, “they just drive everyone away. Cause folks are scared of the police don’t want to be near them, and what do I do it’s so hard, and I’m struggling and I need help and they threatening to take everything. No one cares, who cares? I don’t know what to do.”
She told us how the city had torn down the projects across the street. That they spread the families across the city, she doesn’t even know where they went, the people just gone. We talked to another lady who said that those projects needed to go, that they were festering, but that she didn’t know where the people went, there were good people in there, families and now they can’t afford to be anywhere. I don’t know, they just disappeared. We were told that the white folks had spent all their time moving away from the city, into the suburbs, into gated communities, and now they just changed their minds and are coming back. The city just buying up land, and tearing down low-income homes and here come the white folks. She explained gentrification without mentioning the word, and I just listened. She said, “I don’t get it, I don’t need much, all I got is this house, and that house, we own it too, and I’ve lived here my whole life, and if I can, I’ll give you some food, and let you come in and clean yourself up, because all I got I can share,because what more do I want. What makes me the most mad, is how the city treats the homeless. Where are they? They used to be everywhere, but the city just drove them out, because god forbid one of these fatcats see them in the street.. You know what, they made it that I can’t go the library in the city, I got to go two miles the other way? Why? Why do I have to be pushed out, because these folks are in town. It don’t make any sense, to live here my whole life and be treated like nothing.” She leaned back in her chair.
Now, I'm sitting in a coffee shop in Charlotte, 13 hrs where she told me her story. I feel honored to have been able to listen to her, to them give me so much in such a short time. It wasn't just them though, I walked the streets of Tampa and asked every person I could see if I could interview them, tape them, ask them what it was like to be in Tampa during the convention, but that wasn't all, asked them what it was like to live in Tampa. I ran into two old men sitting on a crumbling brick wall, in front of a boarded up house. I tried to interview them and one said, “I cain't because I ain't no quiet boy,” and the other raised fear because of parole. I asked them the general questions,and they lead me through the general answers. One believed that Obama was going to do right, was trying to do right, but that them good o'l boys up there just stopping him at every turn. The other whose upper incisors were gone to some unknown accident, raised his hands and said, “Look theirs a left hand and a right hand, but they both part of the same body. You know what I'm saying?” They were both in stained shirts leaned back on their elbows and talked easily of what it was like to be in Tampa. How the city just drove the homeless away. “You see what we're doing here? Just sitting in shade and relaxing along this public sidewalk. That's right, public sidewalk, well, up yonder is another spot where folks would sit all day. The land was owned by the public, and the trees shaded the walk so you could be kept cool. Well, you know what the city did? It came along and just sawed them trees down, just pushed them back so there would be no shade.” He looked at us his face tilted to the side, his mouth partly open. “They don't want to see no homeless anywhere. What's wrong with being in shade? Where do they go?
This was repeated through the walks, this sort of insistence, that the city of Tampa was driving the homeless away and that it's the worst, because there wasn't anywhere to go. The man with missing teeth motion to us to come closer and said, “Here, let me show you what's it's about, he held his fist up to us, turned them over and opened them to show us his palms. In one, a quarter nestled in the wrinkles of his skin, and in the other a small crucifix, made of some tin and gold alloy, with Christ splayed out in miniature. “This what choice you have in life, you get me?”
I spoke to a man in his twenties in Ybor city, that explained that he doesn't believe in no protest. He doesn't think there's a point to march with signs and screaming slogans, that it doesn't do anything anymore. He didn't think anything did, but then he said, “But if you gonna protest, you better go lockdown in some streets, or do that thing where you place your arms in others, you know, hands across America style.” I asked him if that was okay, that if that wasn't too much, he said, “Look, if you're to the point where you think you need to stop traffic and make a disturbance, fine, do it, it's America, you're allowed that right.” I asked him if he thought that it was non-violent, and he said, “Yeah, they're not hurting no body stopping traffic.
The marches at the RNC were small and boisterous, the police escorts nearly 3 cops to each protester. I don't know what to really think of the whole experience. You know? It was and it did change me, as all things do as they sneak into my worldview. Romneyville was home to so many people, and I was able to leave it and it just continued on. I think soon they'll disperse back into the streets, as the space closes to them, and I'll be traveling the roads to NYC to see what OWS thinks it should do about the country. I'm tired here in Charlotte, even though I now am in an air-conditioned place, and there are things like showers and indoor bathrooms easily accessible to me. I wish I could leave this post with some sort of nugget of knowledge, or at least knowing that I got across the point I wanted. There was heartbreak in the leaving, love in the watching the camp come together around so many strangers sharing what they could at times. Laughter mixed with exhaustion settling in the nights as I listened to Diamond Dave tell stories from a past I never knew. And the police hovering overhead in their helicopters, to afraid to come close enough to listen to the murmur of life coming from the camp.