Ms. Miami-Dade.com

Born and raised in poverty, Internet trailblazer-cum-civic activist Eve Smith is making headlines and big moves into new domains

For the first time, Smith comprehended her situation.

"I had a moment where I looked around me, and I became aware of the poverty," she says. "I remember standing there looking at all my friends and being so hungry, and I thought to myself, When I grow up things are going to be different. I am going to make them different."


Preservationist Becky Matkov learned a lesson in cyberactivism from Smith
Steve Satterwhite
Preservationist Becky Matkov learned a lesson in cyberactivism from Smith
The fight to save the Miami Circle introduced Smith to the power of the Internet
Steve Satterwhite
The fight to save the Miami Circle introduced Smith to the power of the Internet

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In the middle of December 1998, a friend of Eve Smith called to tell her about a circle built in limestone, found by the Miami River. The property on which the circle sat was owned by a developer who had plans to destroy the discovery and build a high-rise. Smith was busy and didn't pay much attention. She was working on a Website, Miami-Dade.com, which she put online January 1, 1999. (The site is a resource guide of community Websites.) Still the phone calls from her friends about the circle wouldn't stop. In February she decided to check with the domain registry and saw that MiamiCircle.org was available.

"I loved the name," she recalls. It occurred to her that it could be an excellent communication vehicle, though she wasn't quite sure how she was going to use it. "I wanted to see the circle preserved," Smith says. "I felt then and today a very deep bond with the site."

Shortly after purchasing the name, she called Becky Matkov, executive director of the Dade Heritage Trust, to volunteer use of the Website pro bono. "When she first called me and told me, 'I'm offering my Website,' I thought, What's the catch?" laughs Matkov.

This simple phone call resulted in grassroots activism for the cyber era, pushing the boundaries of both communication and citizen participation.

Matkov says people were attracted to the circle for many different reasons, but the one thing they shared in common was their desire for news. The preservationist agreed to e-mail Smith information, and the first Webpage went up late in the evening on February 9. In the center of the first Webpage floated an almost otherworldly nighttime photo of the circle. The Website also included an online petition to save the site, other photographs of the relic, a list of upcoming events, and news articles. The next morning Smith got a call from CNN. She declined to be interviewed, saying she was just the Webmaster, and sent the reporters to Matkov.

Friday night she checked the traffic counter, which records the number of hits to a site. "I thought something was wrong," she remembers. "People were just pouring into [MiamiCircle.org]." That night she recalls staying up until 5:00 a.m. watching the nearly 350 visitors per hour. They came despite the fact that the site had not been advertised or even listed on any Internet search engines.

By Monday Smith claims she was getting 12,000 hits per day. She had made the mistake of posting her phone number, and reporters and the simply curious called her from all over the world. She got even more calls after CNN mentioned the site on the air.

"To this day I don't answer that phone," she says ruefully.

Interest in the Miami Circle continued to grow. On January 29 UFO conspiracy theorist Richard Hoagland (see New Times, "The Hoagland Files," March 11, 1999) went on Art Bell's national radio program on WINZ-AM (940). Within three weeks the county commission would vote 11-1 to begin eminent domain proceedings to take the land. During the critical weeks leading up to the vote, MiamiCircle.org came into its own.

On February 15, 1999, a picture appeared on the front page of the Miami Heraldthat showed a local activist on Brickell Avenue holding a sign reading, "Check the Web: www.MiamiCircle.org." People visited the Website to see what was going on and where the next circle meeting would be. Before official meetings the phone and fax numbers and e-mail addresses of politicians were posted. At one point two days before, Smith received reports the server for the mayor's office had crashed under the weight of urgent e-mails from around the world.

Matkov describes saving the circle in glowing terms. "I didn't really participate in the Sixties," she says. "But I got a sense of what it was like to be totally involved in something bigger than yourself, where you were so energized that you would forget to eat. It was saving something that we felt was irreplaceable, saving it from man's folly." She believes that for Smith, whom she characterizes as a person with a lot of faith and "a believer in miracles," it was "a spiritual crusade."

Smith agrees the circle soon took on a greater meaning for her. Until the vote Smith lived at her computer. She only slept between 3:00 and 6:00 a.m., she says, simply trying to handle all the incoming e-mail. "She is very tiny to be such a dynamo," Matkov says of Smith's vigil. "I have tremendous respect for her. She did a great service with this site."

Reflecting on the e-mail she received during that time, Smith marvels at how the circle seemed to touch people from different nations, ages, and socioeconomic backgrounds. The concern and desire to preserve the circle spanned the globe. "It's not just a Native American thing," she insists. "It's a human thing."

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