Umoja: One Year Later, Still Controversial

Take Back the Land is hosting a rally today to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the start of six months of successful squatting on public land in Liberty City. The group christened it Umoja Village Shantytown, and claims as many as 150 camped on the corner of 62nd Street and N.W. 17th Avenue throughout its existence.

Max Rameau, a group organizer, said today's rally was moved from its original spot to the group’s office on 68th Street and N.W. 15th Avenue because Miami police verbally declined to approve a permit unless the group hired extra police.

“We are doing a free speech event and you don’t have to pay for free speech … I was down for having a big confrontation with the police but we thought that was unfair to other people,” he said, referring to fears rally attendees may be arrested. “This may turn into a bigger thing” A police spokesperson could not be reached for comment Monday evening. TUESDAY UPDATE: A Miami Police spokeswoman, Martha Carbana, said she would look into the matter but could not immediately provide details about the permit.

People lived at the shantytown until late April 2007 when the village burned to the ground. Rameau pledges not to let the “suspicious” fire douse the group’s spirit in his blog announcing today’s event: “While the physical structures burned, the Umoja- Swahili for ‘Unity’ we built cannot be destroyed,” he writes. “The crisis of gentrification and housing which spurred the creation of the Village rages on today.”

The rally starts at 5:00 p.m. and will include food, music and speakers who will talk about future plans of Take Back the Land, a project of the Center for Pan-African Development.

“Public housing residents should control public housing,” Rameau says, who preaches community-based control of housing. --Janine Zeitlin

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Frank Houston