On Sunday evening, a throng of activists strutted down A1A on Fort Lauderdale Beach. They were waving dozens of hand-painted posters of world leaders: Donald Trump, Rick Scott, Bernie Sanders, Raul Castro, Bashar al-Assad, Robert Mugabe, Hitler, and others. They also lugged with them a small crate filled with used shoes.
“Throw a shoe at your least favorite world leader!” they shouted. “We know you want to!”
After all, it was “Shoe Day,” a yearly tradition for these activists, a loose collection of friends who are engaged with various movements in South Florida. They were inspired by Iraqi journalist Muntadr Al-Zaidi. Seven years ago, Al-Zaidi made worldwide news after he chucked his shoes at President George W. Bush during a press conference in Iraq in December 2008. In Iraqi culture, throwing a shoe is considered incredibly disrespectful.
The Florida activists admired Al-Zaidi’s spirit in lashing out against a powerful world leader despite the consequences. Now they want to embolden others to take a stand. Since 2010, they’ve held these small demonstrations all across South Florida on the December anniversary. Last year, their protest focused on the non-indictment of Joe Pantaleo, the NYPD officer who shot Eric Garner. The crowd had already been protesting police in a National Day of Action. Tensions flared, and two activists were arrested.
“It’s not one of those brand-recognition holidays,” said activist Nathan Pim, “but it’s a holiday that I enjoy and others do too.”
Sunday night, onlookers at sidewalk cafes were confused, some pedestrians even sidestepped out of their way. One young man in a backwards cap and tank top approached them. He stared at the poster of Bernie Sanders, then at the poster of Donald Trump, then back at the poster of Sanders: “I don’t get it. Are you for or against Trump?”
“We’re apolitical,” one activist quipped. “Throw a shoe at whoever you don’t like. It’s whatever you think.”
The young man shook his head. “I’m sorry. I don’t get it.”
Most passersby didn’t get the idea at first either. But after activists explained the tie to George W. Bush and the Iraqi journalist, it clicked.
The first person to hurl a shoe was an older man from South Africa. He saw the poster of Zimbabwe dictator Mugabe, reached in the crate for a shoe and threw it. Then he picked it up, and threw it again. He was smiling and laughing.
“That was fun,” he said afterwards. “Mugabe is a horrible, horrible man. I hate him.”
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During the hour-long demonstration, scores of shoes were thrown at the posters. Trump was the biggest target and Trump’s poster was in shambles by the end. The Bernie Sanders poster also took a beating after three teenagers threw shoes at it in quick succession. “No socialism in America!” one of them shouted before scurrying away.
An older woman threw a shoe at Trump. Afterwards, hearing the story of the three socialist-fearing teenagers, she kissed the Bernie Sanders poster. “Not Bernie,” she sighed. “Take care of him.”
People of all ages threw shoes—even a Cuban grandmother. In fact, she took off her own shoe and repeatedly whacked the photo of Raul Castro.
“It’s cheaper than therapy,” activist William John said.