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Orlando: The Stucco Gravestone of American Democracy

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American democracy is dead. No not from socialist government, or from terrorist broadsides and the Bush administration. It has been beaten to death by corporations, right out in the open, and you didn’t even pay attention to it as it screamed and kicked and yelled out to you for help. No better an example of American democracy’s slow, tortured death is there than Orlando, the capital of apathetic America.

Recently Jack joined a small contingent of activists from UCF’s Student Labor Action Project and United Students Against Sweatshops in protesting the NBA’s recent deal with sweatshop overlord Russel corporation. We had our demonstration at Amway (*gag*) Stadium during the final game between the Lakers and the Magic. Both because the deal should be a concern of basketball fans, and because unfortunately its one of the only civic spaces left in Orlando that has not been staked out by strip malls and suburbs. Well, not really…

Even though the old arena was built by the city, and of the $480 million for the new one 85% is payed for in Orlando citizens’ tax dollars (upfront costs only, not including the inevitable cost overruns), apparently neither stadium is public property. So one of the last bastions of civic space in Orlando is essentially owned by the Amway corporation, a company whose business plan is essentially a pyramid scheme, and has been successfully sued because of it. Therefore, unlike a public park, you have no right to free speech on the premises. So those who came to protest a disturbing activity related to the NBA could not speak on what by all rights should be public land. Those who attempted to so much as silently hand out fliers were immediately forced off the premises by Orlando cops. This is obviously not conducive to a democratic society.

While students protesting sweatshops were pushed off the premises, Amway founder Rich DeVos has used the same stadium to advance his own bigoted political message. As this publication notes (see by David Zirin, on page for details), the DeVos family is using the funds from the stadium to advance their right-wing politics. Most recently their support for the anti-gay marriage ban, amendment 2, to which they donated $100,000. Why are we allowing a man worth 4.4 billion dollars to use a stadium we’re building for his political and financial gain? If he wants to build a new stadium, to replace one that is barely 20 years old, he shouldn’t rely on us to do so, and then turn around to use the money he should be spending on the arena to fund his bigoted invasion into our bedrooms. At the very least the stadium should be public property, not his.

This shows how uncommitted Orlando residents are to democracy. The very bad idea of spending $1.1 billion on the three venues were opposed by a tiny fragment of motivated residents and professional activists. The plan was predicated on the revenue gathered by tourism and housing taxes, which was understood even then as financially uncertain. With the tourism industry taking a massive hit, the housing industry imploded, and a city government facing a nationwide tend of metropolitan budget shortfalls, the plan reveals the massive mistake that our city government has forced through.

The town halls concerning the venues back in 2006 were lessons in the corporate take over of government. Proponents were almost always members of the developer class or people with occupational ties to the Magic. One of the few organized elements of democracy were the worker’s unions, divided between the proponents in the form of the building trades and the opponents in the form of the fire-fighter’s union. Both unions turned out to be screwed by the deal, with the firefighters who correctly guessed that the venues would ultimately cause budget problems harming them, and the builders who have been screwed by the city backing out on its deal to use unionized labor for building and maintaining the stadium. In the democratic ghetto outside the stadium the students were joined by the latter who handed out fliers decrying the city’s use of independent contractors, who used undocumented immigrants rather than American labor.

One can blame a lot of our ills on our city government, which has been shown to be incompetent and corrupt, many times by our sister (in spirit) publication the Orlando Weekly. From Dyer’s opposition to allowing people to share food with the homeless, to Daisy Lynum’s innumerable business ties favoring friends and relatives (and her tendency to cry racism every time this is pointed out), that conclusion is certainly apt. However the larger conclusion is inescapable, their continued occupation of their positions is our fault.

Granted it is no secret in the political world that Dyer and his cronies are swimming in developer money, the venues deal and the light rail giveaway to the CSX corporation merely very visible tributes to these connections. However, despite enormous political baggage which could sink politicians much far more skilled, Dyer and his compliant city council have barely been challenged. Why?

Unfortunately, Orlando has several major impediments to democratic activism that should have ousted our crooks and cronies in charge. First, about one third of orange county moves within a year, many who elect to stay will more than likely move to an apartment in a new community. This means that they will be less interested in the upkeep of their community and will not participate in even the bare minimum democratic responsibilities that one would expect, like voting for city officials. Unfortunately, their unwillingness to maintain a bare minimum of democratic scruples screws those of us who do live here.

Also, you may have noticed that Orlando is incredibly spread out, suburbanized nightmare. There are few places were Orlando residents will run into each other, outside of their cars, both figuratively and literally. Lack of civic spaces hampers activism, since without a public square , there are few locations were Orlando citizens are confronted with the cultural and political activity that is virtually required of the informed electorate envisioned by our founding fathers. Combine that with summers that turn our fair city into a sulfuric swamp in hell, you have even less likelihood that you can engage with someone outside of their air conditioned personal bastions.

Next throw in the impact of Disney, which unfortunately touches on everything in this city. While Disney employs much of Orlando, it also has a problematic and infectious ideology attached to it. It is consumer capitalism incarnate, encompassing the worst infantilizing characteristics outlined by Benjamin R. Barber in his testament to the subject Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole, which Jack recommends. This ideology both directly and indirectly fuels the tenancy to eschew civic governance that is found in anti-tax fanatics on the right, complacent anarchists on the left, and the politically weary in-between.

All these factors are only some of the reason why Orlando is the veritable wet powder keg of activism. Unfortunately, we don’t have the answers as to how to get Orlando residents to stop seeing themselves as consumers and start acting as citizens. However, the only solution to Orlando’s incompetent city government corrupted by anti-democratic developers, is mass action. We at the Telepath hope that we (AND PARTICULARLY YOU) do something about this, and disprove our pessimistic belief that Orlando is the stucco gravestone of American democracy.

Visit us at populistpress.com. Join the Populist Press Partisans and take back our city through force of enlightened action!

Written by jackofspades83

June 25, 2009 at 3:17 pm