UUs mobilize in Miami for FTAA protests
by Megan Coppock
I was fortunate enough to spend a week in Miami in November 2003 with my mother and many other Unitarian Universalists demonstrating against the Free Trade Area of the Americas. Thousands of activists came from across the Americas. There are many reasons people oppose the agreement; for me it is mainly fear of the loss of environmental protection and of a rollback of human and workers' rights.
I want to emphasize the amazing, uplifting energy of all of us concerned citizens in contrast to the ominous, overwhelming presence of thousands of police.
It is hard for me to describe the scene in Miami because as of yet in my life I have nothing to compare it to. From the Monday that I walked downtown to attend my first teach-in until Friday afternoon getting on the Metro-rail to leave the city, hundreds of police officers covered from head to toe in riot gear lined every street. For those of you who have never seen police in full riot gear, it is like hundreds of Darth Vaders lining the streets. They were armed with gas masks, batons, shields, rifles, tear gas, and pepper spray. Police cars were blocking off streets at random and cruising the streets with their sirens blaring. Not once did the hum of the helicopters overhead subside, and on Thursday afternoon as thousands of activists filed into the rally arena we were greeted by tanks with their guns directed at us.
As you are visualizing this scene I want to tell you about the thousands of us who were spending the week getting to know one another; attending workshops and teach-ins, parades and puppet shows; and holding an interfaith service and a candlelight vigil. We were building and sharing the positive energy it takes to make change happen.
Thursday was the day of big action, complete with two large rallies and a huge peaceful march by ten to twenty thousand people. That march was an amazing experience. People were singing and chanting; banners were flying high; one group held large blue ribbons representing the flow of clean water.
Unfortunately, after the march the tensions that had been building all week resulted in negative interactions. Three UU women and I had been separated from our group, and we were pushed out of the area by aggressive police officers. At each corner we were told to keep moving. Police officers ran up the streets in lines, and cars went screaming by with sirens going. At one point my mother stopped to try and speak with a police officer. I stopped as well, not wanting to get separated. An officer came up behind me and told me to keep moving. Not wanting to leave my mom I started walking but extremely slowly. The officer pushed himself right up behind me, forcing me to move faster and threatening me that if I dared to turn around one more time he would arrest me. A block up the street my mom caught up with me, and for a moment my anxiety and fear subsided. Then I realized what was going on: We were being pushed out of an area barricaded by the police and other people were being held. A feeling of complete helplessness and disempowerment came over me.
I don't want to end on this negative note because the week did not end negatively at all. It was so spiritually grounding and uplifting when I finally got back to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Miami that night. At least a hundred people came together there sharing their experiences. To see all of these familiar faces exhausted but safe was such a relief to me. The church had opened its doors all week, offering safety and warmth as well as food and shelter, but Thursday night was especially wonderful. I want to say thank you to Unitarian Universalists, thank you for opening your doors and hearts. I truly appreciated the awareness and caring it takes to provide this kind of support and love to those of us working toward this positive change.