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COLUMN

Happytown

Photo: Mark Foley, License: N/A

Mark Foley


As of this writing, Occupy Orlando has been at it for five months, protesting, holding general assemblies, camping out on the streets. They've been chased around by authorities everywhere they go. Their belongings were hauled off by the Orlando Police Department one night, while Occupiers looked on, helpless to do anything to stop the cops from confiscating their tents, signs, generators and even their American flag.They've been arrested – and jailed – for such minor infractions as writing on sidewalks in chalk and being in public parks after curfew. And now the Orange County Commission has drafted a very special resolution expressly written to make it impossible for Occupy Orlando to continue to occupy the space outside of the Orange County Administration Center, where they've been protesting for a little more than a week.

Citing the impact to the "aesthetic appearance" of the building and the fact that this is a "new and unexpected use" of the property, the resolution notes that having an occupation on the grounds of the administration building just won't do. The Orange County Administration Center was "not designed for camping or long-term ‘occupation,'" the resolution says. "The Board of County Commissioners seeks to protect and preserve the health, safety and welfare of the people of Orange County and the Orange County Administration Center."

In other words: Think of the health and safety of the commissioners who have to walk through a throng of dirty hippies and their belongings strewn about the sidewalk. Somebody might trip over a tent pole! Slip and fall on a falafel sandwich!Catch a whiff of body odor and become offended! We've got to do something!

So Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs leapt into action and invited Occupy Orlando to come sit in on the Orange County Commission meeting. She "personally visited protesters" on Monday, March 5, a press statement from Occupy Orlando says, but she didn't tell them that the reason they were being invited was so they could witness the commission vote on the resolution evicting them from the property. "Occupy participants have expressed feelings of being ambushedafter learning of the resolution."

The resolution relegates the protesters to a small spot (subject to change, as needed) on the corner of Church Street and Rosalind, where they can protest from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. No tents, bedding, shelters or other structures will be permitted. And certainly no writing on the sidewalks in chalk. That's just unsightly.

At least Jacobs gave Occupiers a couple of days to collect their tents and Guy Fawkes masks before throwing them off the property. Last week, Occupy Orlando was waiting for its orders to vacate and telling supporters to contact their county commissioners to urge them to reconsider limiting occupiers' rights to free speech on public property. That didn't work; the site was broken up in a pre-dawn raid on March 13. Occupy Orlando legal team member Shayan Elahi (who, by the way, is running for the Florida House of Representatives) made vague allusions to seeing this thing go to court. "These ex post facto laws and resolutions have a chilling effect on free speech and are looked down upon by courts, especially the Supreme Court," Elahi says. "It suggests our local government is more interested in banning criticism than addressing the concerns of citizens." What else is new?

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