"Occupy Fort Lauderdale" Movement Holds First Demonstration (PHOTOS)

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They started outside the federal courthouse and marched -- on the sidewalk, escorted by police -- to the front steps of Scott Rothstein's old digs on Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale. Outside the restaurant space where the local Ponzi king once cut his porterhouse, people gathered with American flags, cardboard signs, painted T-shirts, and all manner of propaganda. They weren't the tea party -- too many young people and minorities -- and they weren't the usual crowd of activists that exists and protests below the radar in any city. They were mamas and papas and, yes, a few little kids, including one dressed up in prison orange. This was Occupy Fort Lauderdale.

But what exactly were their demands? Did they have specifics? Reporters struggling to understand the concept of mass revolt have asked. But we'll get to that later. Here's what you need to know: Civil unrest has gone mainstream again. 

A few weeks ago, we published a story about the anarchistic Food Not Bombs movement, including scenes from a "consensus meeting" in which the members communicated using hand signals to agree, disagree, or amend the discussion. It seemed a little esoteric, like a secret language in a club.

Well, no longer: After the 200 or so people marched, again along the sidewalk, again escorted by quiet, traffic-stopping cops, to the Bubier Park stage, they started letting people get up and speak for a couple of minutes. And one organizer, Jessica Wilson, explained the hand signals. "This will be the most important one," she said, raising her hands above her head and wiggling her fingers, signaling agreement.

That sign showed up again and again across the crowd seated and standing on the grass, as speakers aired their own grievances and outlined a sort of moral code for the protests.

Gordon Svieveke, a yoga instructor and therapist, read some of Martin Luther King Jr.'s six principles of nonviolence. "Those that we think are different from us are not the enemy," he said to a silent cheer of open hands. 

A young man who identified himself as Jared publicly thanked the Fort Lauderdale Police Department for its cooperation with the protesters and contrasted it with the harsher actions taken in recent weeks by police in New York.

"When I first saw people waking up around the world," he said, "I never thought I'd see it here."

Brian Sprinkle, one of the founders of the local Food Not Bombs movement and a prolific local activist, also helped put together the protest. He said the crowd had been even larger as it moved from the courthouse to the Bank of America Plaza.

Robb Muise, who has been mentioned on our blog in the past for his Tea Party counterdemonstrations, was on the scene with a red cross duct-taped to his black T-shirt; he was serving as a "street medic" in case anybody got hurt (or happened to find his way into a cloud of pepper spray). He said he got EMT training "for handy situations like this." Before the march to the park, he stood on the steps of the office building and told everybody to pick up their trash. "Pick up your trash," the people's mic echoed on the sidewalk.

Other speeches were more specific: one man talked about how private hospitals may deny care to the uninsured; complaints about underemployment were heard repeatedly. 

​Christopher Clark, wearing biking gear and holding his bicycle (he had ridden up from Hollywood for the event), was one of the first to speak. Clark tells the Pulp that he works as a corporate recruiter and has dealt with executives from various Fortune 500 companies. Even they, the ones who make maybe a quarter-million dollars a year, are feeling pressure from above, he says. 

"If you make less than a hundred million dollars a year," said one speaker, to laughter, cheers, and an echo from the crowd, "you are part of the 99 percent."

After the speeches, organizers planned to move into "working groups" to plan the future of the movement and discuss specific areas: medical volunteers, musical accompaniment, and logistics. We'll have more updates from the movement and reactions as they come in. If you have photographs or videos of the protest, please feel free to provide a link in the comments below.

Stefan Kamph is a New Times staff writer.
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