The Quiet Riot

We're only worried about the perception to the public at large that it's being hijacked. We have such a strong core of organizers and such a strong core of support in the community that I feel very strongly that it can't be hijacked.

However, when you have something happening this big and this fast, and it's this important to the community, even among the people sitting at the table you're going to have disagreement. You've got to allow people to voice their true opinions. Believe me, I have been voted down many times by the boycott organizers.

One of the reasons the organizers were so insistent that there be only one or two spokespeople is that now masses of people know - whites, Cubans, Jews, blacks, upper class, middle class, lower class - that unless [attorney] Marilyn Holifield or H.T. Smith says it, it doesn't count. You don't see anybody else now even claiming to speak for the boycott. It's that kind of discipline and that kind of commitment that will keep us on the right track and keep this movement from being hijacked.

How do you interpret or explain this silence on the part of city and county elected officials? Do you perceive it as arrogance, or is it merely a structural inability to act? Is this situation in reality an insoluble one?

It's a combination of things - it's definitely not insoluble. One, the September 4 primary. A lot of people felt that if they were to say anything or do anything prior to the election, it could cause problems for candidates they endorse; the media could take it and run with it. Secondly, there were a lot of people on vacation, so a lot of people who could move this thing onto the front burner were not around. Thirdly, some politicians believed that anything they say is going to hurt them in one community or another and so they were going to try to be silent.

We anticipated as a result of the way blacks have been dealt with in the past - the business leaders just ignoring us, and the political leaders taking us for granted - that there will be a 90- to 120-day conspiracy of silence. Because usually people have broken or given up and not sustained an effort. We don't expect anything to happen until 90 days from July 17. We think then business leaders will look at the bottom line and say, "Damn this, I'm not going to lose another $25 million in direct losses, suffer more bad publicity nationally and internationally, and allow predominantly white organizations to become cool about getting involved in coming to Miami," because, except for the Ku Klux Klan, they all have black members. And that's what's beginning to happen.

We have dedicated ourselves to pursue this thing into the year 2000 if necessary. I think as it becomes evident that our resolve is firm, they will see they have to face the issue. And they will face the issue.

If elected officials have been silent during the black boycott, Miami's business leaders have not. While calling the boycott irresponsible and "a knee-jerk reaction," representatives of both the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau have acknowleged the serious impact the sanctions have already had on Dade's economy and reputation.

In a Miami Herald article published August 7, convention bureau chief Stierheim said the boycott "could cost the county millions and would affect everyone from those in the hotel, restaurant, and airline industries to independent barbers, florists, and vendors." Chamber of commerce president Bill Cullom, in his August 16 report to members, called the boycott "one of the most serious things to happen in Miami in my nine years at the Chamber. A solution must be worked out in the very near future."

"Right now, we're competing with many, many other cities across the country to bring a major league baseball team to Miami," says Garth Reeves, publisher of the black-oriented Miami Times and a member of the Chamber. "I know they're going to throw it up in our faces. This thing is a damn black eye. Anyone over at the Chamber will tell you this shit is getting serious. We need to warn the heavyweights in this town that this could be devastating."

Reeves, who supports the boycott, adds, "I think it's a damn shame the way corporate and political leaders are sitting around doing nothing. They're not going to win this thing by staying quiet. H.T. Smith has got the upper hand now. If I were in his position, I wouldn't take my foot off their necks. Blacks own so little and get such a minuscule amount from the hotel industry. This boycott is not hurting blacks a bit.

"Politicians don't like to apologize," Reeves notes. "But they will have to do something, or they will suffer at the polls next time. On the other hand, I can't see them issuing an apology. Ever since the Cuban vote got this heavy in this town, it scares the shit out of everyone."

If it were up to some of the economic targets of the boycott, an apology might already have been issued. Or perhaps not. Three weeks ago the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce sent to selected members a draft statement that amounted to an apology. The Chamber hoped to collect 200 signatures to the open letter, then run it as a full-page advertisement in the Miami Herald and the Miami Times.

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