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COLUMN

Happytown

We got preoccupied with the Occupation of the City Beautiful, then we snapped out of it and measured imaginary drapes with the latest mayoral contender. Orlando is on fire! Run for your lives!

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Oh, downtown Orlando after dark, you’re such a shapeshifter. Sometimes you’re a desperate stumbling drunk wandering from one bar to the next. Other times you’re a hot blonde with a vacant stare teetering toward Wall Street Plaza on high heels. City Hall doesn’t like it when you’re a homeless dude hoping to score some change from the suits leaving happy hour. They probably don’t like it, either, when you take the uncomfortable shape of social protest, economic frustration and populist revolt – a form you pretty much never take these days, since it clashes with the sanitized version of downtown the city wants you to be (see: Happytown). But that’s exactly what you were trying to be on the evening of Oct. 5, when Occupy Orlando held its first general assembly on the plaza outside the Orange County Regional History Center.

In the evenings, this spot is usually occupied by a handful of homeless men and gutterpunks who like to hop their BMX bikes along the ledges and off the heads of the alligator statues. Tonight, a crowd had gathered to listen to a bleached-blond guy with a goatee and a Church of the Sub Geniuspin on his lapel who was using a megaphone to explain how Orlando planned to join in the spate of nonviolent occupations that have swept across U.S. cities recently.

He introduced himself as the Rev. Faux (when asked later, he declined to give his real name, explaining that some of those involved with this effort prefer not to be identified by name), and he’s part of what’s come to be known as the 99 percent – a growing movement of people who’re tired of being underemployed, uninsured, disrespected and squeezed by an economy that increasingly puts the interests of corporations over those of people. Faux, who says he’s from Orlando, is quick to say he’s not a leader of this group – like the Occupy Wall Street movement that has given birth to multiple smaller Occupy groups in cities across the U.S., Occupy Orlando plans to be a “leaderless” organization – though he’s obviously put a lot of time and effort into keeping it organized and running smoothly. He and a handful of other volunteers took turns addressing the crowd from the concrete block they were using as a podium, asking for volunteers to serve on various color-coded committees – black for fact keepers, white for peace keepers, red for first aid, yellow for legal and so forth – and explaining the rules of nonviolent protest. (Do: Respect your fellow protester, stay level-headed when explaining your position, know your legal rights. Don’t: Start a fight, block traffic, wear red or blue bandanas – apparently, some Occupy Wall Streeters got into some trouble with gangs for wearing rival colors in the wrong neighborhoods.) “This is a nonviolent, nonreactionary movement,” he reminded the crowd – which, incidentally, didn’t show much sign of being either rowdy or revolutionary, aside from breaking into a few raucous chants of “This is what democracy looks like” and “Whose streets? Our streets!”

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