Occupy Fort Lauderdale Protesters Defy Rain as Hundreds Turn Out to Express Grievances

Amid the unfavorable weather that hovered over Fort Lauderdale last night, a couple of hundred people still gathered near the Broward Main Public Library to express their distaste, distrust, and disdain for the state of the country.

There's a common misconception that the Occupy movement is a reincarnation of the hippie collectives of yore, but that's not a label that could be placed on the folks at the inaugural meeting of Occupy Fort Lauderdale.

A "type" of the meeting's attendees would be impossible to describe -- there were father/son and grandmother/granddaughter combinations, high school students already concerned about what the future holds for them, older people disheartened by the state of Social Security, doctors, engineers, former Wall Street and financial workers, and even a congressional candidate.

Occupy Fort Lauderdale isn't yet in full-on demonstration mode, as organizers have said the first few meetings will help gather the momentum to continue the movement and eventually shift into protesting.

The meeting started with general statements and explaining the concept of a "consensus meeting," as well as a reading of the "Declaration of Occupation" -- the text of which can be found here.

"We're not here because of a political leaning," said Evan Rowe, one of the event's organizers. "We're here because a rotten political system is affecting us in several ways."

After that, the floor was opened to anyone who wanted the opportunity to speak and air out their ideas, as the masses moved a block east of the library to keep everyone dry underneath a concrete overhang.

The first person to step up was a man named Andrew Kirschner, who, among other things, announced he's entering the race as an independent candidate for the congressional seat held by Rep. Allen West.

"The party is over," Kirschner said. "We're taking our government back."

Kirschner announced the laundry list of problems he has with the current political state in the country, emphasizing corporate influence in politics and how he refuses to accept a single dollar from any corporation to fund his campaign.

Dozens of people followed Kirschner to address the group, each with a different focus on why they're mad as hell.

The concerns were wide-ranging: One man wanted the group to focus on state politics -- including the power for people to recall the governor if they need to -- while another was upset that his family home of 41 years had recently been foreclosed on.

One man emphasized that political focus should be "human needs, not corporate greed," which received a resounding applause from the group.

The underlying theme throughout most of the stories was that the Occupy movement isn't a left/right or Democrat/Republican battle. It was a tone that the movement represents everyone in the United States who wants his or her government back from the corporate influence that they say is becoming increasing prevalent.

Broward AFL-CIO delegate Tim Ross also addressed the crowd, as did a woman who told attendees that she'd been laid off twice by Merrill Lynch, then lost her home and took another job at a 50 percent pay cut.

"I'm mad as hell about all this," she said.

Scores of other people shared their stories, including another former Wall Street employee, a woman who went back to college and got two degrees -- and still remains unemployed after more than two years; an employee of AT&T; a high school senior and a handful of college graduates concerned about the state of student loans; a seasoned engineer; and other people who were upset for all types of reasons.

After about 90 minutes of the meeting, it was officially over, but many of the people remained to swap stories and continue the discourse. They also held another meeting this afternoon to keep the momentum going.

The first demonstration or march hasn't yet been scheduled, but you can find all the updates and information on the Occupy Fort Lauderdale website by clicking here.

You can also find the New Times photo slide show of last night's meeting by clicking here.

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Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley