After starting out with a determined unity, at least two distinct factions are currently manifesting in Occupy Fort Myers. One is spearheaded by Matthew McDowell, the other lead by Danielle Quina. A General Assembly was called at the Old Federal Courthouse at 2120 Main St., Fort Myers by Matthew McDowell, and Quina disputed whether it was actually an OFM GA, because there had been no consensus, and McDowell had sent out invitations where he excluded people.
Despite this, a somewhat unusually sedate GA of 50 people met at the Old Federal Courthouse. Many speeches were made, ideas fielded, actions planned, and the general atmosphere seemed more mature, polished, and rested, but without the fiery spirit that occupied former rallies.
Jeremy Walker, an Alorica employee who lost his job in relation to Occupy activities, opened up the GA, introducing himself to attendees seated on the courthouse steps. He introduced Gary Hutchinson,an organizer who discussed a model based on the concept of a atom. Some 9 work groups have been formed, each with roles that are meant to intertwine with the activities of other groups, such Hutchinson made it clear he was open to any and all feedback, a rolling theme through Occupy gatherings.
After this, Hutchinson introduced McDowell. McDowell spoke with humility about failing “to help out as much as he could,” but felt “phase one” was over and it was time for a new direction. He said the focus should be on more direct action. Occupying foreclosures was mentioned. Hutchinson thanked him for his leadership, although McDowell denied being the leader, though he said he was playing a leadership role. Hutchinson said “leader” wasn’t a bad word, not about a power-seeker, but someone seeking to accomplish something. This brought a round of applause.
Meanwhile, a battle for control of the Occupy Fort Myers Facebook page was raging on as I wrote this article. Accusations were leveled from Quina, and McDowell responded in a conciliatory tone, offering an olive branch while asserting Quina had previously caused dissension.
The GA proceeded in an orderly fashion. Jeremy Walker shared his disturbing story of having lost his job after speaking out against a corporation, the need to pay attention to image was fielded, another speaker said the Movement was no longer leaderless but was now “leaderful,” as there would be multiple leaders in different capacities.
Several direct actions were decided on, including a march on Edison Bridge, and at Rick Scott’s beachfront residence. Possibilities of more far-reaching goals than were previously conceived were suggested, the idea of an Occupy Party with candidates, events planned months in advance, and a need to counter Governor Rick Scott by educating voters.
Many seemed heartened by the changes. Ro Boggs, an experienced union organizer, thought the changes were good, but that there was still proverbial fat to be trimmed.
“We need to be a little more intelligent about what we’re trying to do here,” said Boggs. “we’re going to move forward in leaps and bounds. When there’s something big that’s going to happen: occupy the courthouse. When Connie Mack is going to do something: be there. You have to be at these political events. This is the forum. It’s handed to to you on a plate. If Occupy Fort Myers doesn’t take advantage of all that political action, then they’ve lost the battle.”
Boggs argued that demonstrations that aren’t affecting policy makers are pointless, especially with a small group, and urged a focus on affecting actual political changes.
“You’ve got to be cost effective. You’ve got to have the right idea,” said Boggs. “You’ve got to do things that are going to make people look at you. You have to dress semi-good. You can’t be dirty for four days. There can’t be cooking utensils around. If you’re going to go somewhere, everyone should have on the same shirt. People are going to look at those things.”
“This is a tough area,” said Lee Rocco, another supporter, “Things are evolving nationally and worldwide. People are getting out. They’re talking about the issues on the internet, and watching other people around America and around the world bringing up the issues. The real issues. I’m glad to see that happening. It’s impossible to change unless people speak out about what’s really going on.”
After the GA closed, McDowell discussed the evolution of OFM, and his role in this.
“Not necessarily my role,” said McDowell, “I think we all have roles to fill in the next days. In a sense, we were becoming less effective, and I think we needed to move into a more productive and effective stage. My role is to continue to support in any way I can, and allowing other leaders to take on responsibilities. It’s really a leaderful movement, not a leaderless movement.”
Was Occupy about occupying a public space any longer?
“Well, there’s some possible ideas we’re looking at,” said McDowell. “There’s a church we can use for, in a sense, a headquarters in Lehigh. The other thing we’re looking at is occupying people who are going through foreclosures. That seems to be something that a lot of the other Occupy’s around the nation are doing. And they’re being kicked away, out of public spaces, despite their Constitutional right. So, we think we can still occupy and raise awareness about the banks.”
What about the infighting?
“I think you’re always going to face some kind of inner difficulty,” he said, “especially when you’re bringing together people of different backgrounds, cultures, and even skill sets. So, it takes a little while to figure out where people should lead.”
It’s not just about camping and occupying public spaces, he insisted.
“It’s moving in the right direction again, I feel,” he said, “there were a lot of people who expressed concern, saying they supported the movement, but they couldn’t continue supporting it the way it was going. Some of the homeless, the mentally challenged, the veterans that were taken into the camp–we wound up taking care of a lot of other people’s problems, instead of trying to solve the larger issue.”
When asked for her take, Quina said she didn’t feel the GA was an approved Occupy event, and was orchestrated for the purpose of funneling power away from the group and toward one individual.