Occupy Miami Brings Out Hundreds of Protesters to Bayfront Park

Echoing the ongoing "Occupy" movements from Wall Street to San Francisco, hundreds of sign-waving, drum-beating, flyer-hawking protesters gathered in Bayfront Park this afternoon, drawing supportive honks from cars pouring down Biscayne Boulevard and bewildered stares from tourists popping shrimp at Bubba Gump.

The energy around the Torch of Friendship was palpable, but as for what the crowd was protesting .... well, it depended on who was waving the sign.

No one can accuse the Occupy movement of erecting a small tent. Among the several hundred gathered at Bayfront this afternoon were bandana-clad anarchists and moderate Republicans, Ron Paul-supporting libertarians and liberal democrats.

Hand-made signs called for reforming banks, forgiving student loans, ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, boycotting corporate farming and supporting unions.

One goth-clad young woman handed out xeroxed pages in support of Anonymous, the hacker collective, reading, "The people should not fear the government, the government should fear the people." An intense-eyed activist nearby passed out literature urging Americans to vote, "but not for lawyers."

So what is this Occupy business all about?

The organizers weren't much interested in talking about it, at least to us. Muhammed Malik, a former ACLU researcher who helped spark Occupy Miami, said he was "only talking to Al Jazeera." Another planner left to take a phone call before a reporter could ask questions. A third said simply: "We're not interested in talking today."

The protesters themselves were much more forthcoming. If there was a unifying theme to the afternoon, it was a seething anger at corporate greed and the role of cash in American politics.

Mario Garcia, a military vet who'd served in Bosnia, says he's had trouble landing sales jobs in Miami and his wife, Stephanie, hasn't been able to stay home with their children.

"The heads of corporations are making millions while the employees are getting laid off and their salaries slashed," he says, holding a sign reading "Being a two-income family should be a choice, not a requirement for survival."

"We can't get banks out of politicians' pockets and vice versa," Stephanie Garcia adds.

Nearby, Ron Cox, a political science professor at Florida International University, sounds a similar theme.

"People feel powerless because it's money that matters in politics today," Cox says.

Laura Leigh Rumpey, a high school teacher, says Rick Scott's emphasis on profit-driven charter schools in Florida is another example of corporate influence in politics hurting American society.

"When the profit motive is more important than educating students, you see the kind of horrible effects that public schools around the state are seeing," she says.

Diverse as the protesters demands might be, many said the sight of hundreds of Miamians waving signs at all was heartening.

"The message that we're the 99 percent is really resonating," says Nicholas "Sandy" Davies, local coordinator of the Progressive Democrats of America. "We're not trying to exclude anyone from this movement ... except maybe the corporate CEOs making millions."

Here are a few photos from this afternoon. Check back later for a full slide show and analysis:

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink