By Dan Harkins
For Hometown News
DAYTONA BEACH - A tight circle of a dozen tents near Nova Road is slowly becoming an undeniable part of the weekend view at Tuscawilla Park. The impromptu town is bordered with simple placards that implore passersby to "Save the American Dream" or "Wake the Sleeping Giant."
Occupy Daytona, for now, is all paid up on its city permit and here to stay.
Right there at the middle of it all last Saturday was 80-year-old Phil Green, a retired engineer from Ormond Beach who says he's been a part of the Occupy Wall Street movement "from the beginning." He's not camping out at the park like many of the others, but he's here to lend his voice to the chorus of disenfranchised Americans.
"There's been a long history of people with power trying to get it all," said Mr. Green as his fellow protesters prepared more signs for an impromptu march to mark Saturday's Universal Human Rights Day. "It actually goes back to the labor movement in the late 19th century, where people were trying to protect themselves against an unjust system. It's been going on since then. It may be better today, sure, but we're slowly moving back to those early days."
Contingents of the Occupy Wall Street movement that began in the middle of September continue to hunker down in city parks across the nation to decry the still-exultant powers that be. In the same week as police moved to break up encampments in cities like San Francisco and Denver, and just weeks after protesters were tear-gassed or pepper-sprayed on national television in Oakland and at the University of California-Davis, local 99-percenters held firm to a still-peaceable reputation.
That isn't always easy to do, said camper Guy Volel, a 56-year-old computer technician from Daytona Beach, who was forced into retirement by his longtime employer, AT&T, in 2005. Volel came to America from Haiti in 1979, "when America was still a land of opportunity."
"Unfortunately, a peaceful revolution doesn't work unless everybody is in it," he said, holding a sign that asked "How is the War Economy Working for You?" to the occasionally honking motorists at the nearby intersection of Nova Road and International Speedway Boulevard. "I want this movement to be peaceful, but when it's peaceful, it's probably not going to work."
Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood told city commissioners at their meeting last Wednesday that the Occupy Daytona protestors were leaving the area cleaner than it was before they got there and had even invited officers to their meetings.
"They want to get their message out," Chief Chitwood said, "and they don't want to break the law to do it."
A few dozen group members had lined up to ask commissioners for a waiver of the $265 daily permit fee for their occupation. An anonymous donation of $1,590 that was handed over to City Manager James Chisholm on Dec. 7 paid for the permit through the Christmas weekend. After that, the group may have to scrape together the money themselves.
"Please let us participate in our democracy and do not try to subvert the Constitution and democracy and the freedoms we have in America," Daytona Beach resident Chris Muenzer told commissioners. "We have a right to peaceably assemble. ... I may not run Daytona Beach, but we do make Daytona Beach run."
Mayor Glenn Ritchey told the group that "we're certainly not here to deprive anyone of their constitutional rights," noting how "we're a melting pot here, more so than a lot of other areas." He said the issue would be discussed at a roundtable discussion the next day.
A day after that, on Friday, city spokeswoman Susan Cerbone said, "Sometimes, there are different activities in the parks that applicants want the fees waived for, but the city doesn't waive fees."
The protestors saw that coming. They appeared unfazed over the weekend.
"This occupation is not only a show of solidarity for what's going on in New York and now around the world, but also to educate people who somehow still don't understand," said 18-year-old Daytona Beach resident Conner Daubner, who's been involved with the group since its first general assembly meeting on Oct. 10.
"This isn't about left or right," added Kelly LaCombe, a 51-year-old business consultant from Port Orange who owns Everything Green Market. "It's about right and wrong."
Ms. LaCombe was talking politics with Jerry Bolkcom, a 52-year-old attorney. Though he lives just a few blocks from the park, Mr. Bolkcom was standing near the green dome tent he'd spent the night in.
"We're 30 years into the mythology of 'tinkle down,'" said Bolkcom, referring to "trickle-down" economics. "Where are the jobs?"
Ms. LaCombe piped in: "It's about empathy. Do you need more than a billion dollars? Really?"
"It's a kid's game at a certain point," said Mr. Bolkcom, "and they're playing with Monopoly money."
Over by a tiny library of books, across the circle from a table brimming with drinks and snacks, Samantha Rivera, a 58-year-old from Holly Hill, tried to organize the few dozen community signs splayed about the ground. "Hey, DC ... Work For Me, Not The Money!" "Occupy the Park!" "I Don't Have a Lobbyist. I'm One of the 99%"
Ms. Rivera says she wasn't so tapped in during the anti-war movement of her youth, and this is her way to finally have her feelings heard about the decimation of America's middle class.
"What's going on with our tax dollars, our war dollars, is very opaque," she said. "And it's money that buys you the access and the influence to have a real say in how those dollars could be spent differently."
Earlier in the morning, group members received another check to help with permitting fees, though they couldn't give the exact amount. At lunchtime, a vegetarian rice dish was served, brought over from the home of a supporter. Janie Clark, a New Smyrna Beach retiree with a master's degree in exercise physiology, brought everyone pastries for breakfast.
"I wanted to come down and lend my support to these great Americans," she said. "I really respect them and what they're trying to do. These aren't people looking for a handout. They just want fairness. When one percent of the population can control almost half of all the wealth, that makes for a pretty uneven playing field."