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One city, many worlds - Miami Journal #3

It's Halloween evening, and Miami Beach is bustling with twenty-something party-goers and parents shepherding their costumed children through pastures of candy. The Democratic Party office on Lincoln Road, a glitzy pedestrian mall traversing the island, has its doors flung wide open, rainbow-colored Kerry/Edwards propaganda spilling out onto the sidewalk.

Downtown Miami, by contrast, was dead silent by the time I left the ACT office on Biscayne Blvd at dusk. Vacant lots, empty homes and office buildings, and new construction sites make for a dismal landscape of urban decay and impending gentrification. Developers are trying to extend the flashy atmosphere of Miami Beach to downtown, catering to upscale young professionals that might possibly want to live where they work. But for now, most everyone who can afford to lives away from downtown, and far from Overtown, the adjoining historically Black neighborhood.

One city, many worlds
Miami Journal #3
Sunday 10/31/04

It's Halloween evening, and Miami Beach is bustling with twenty-something party-goers and parents shepherding their costumed children through pastures of candy. The Democratic Party office on Lincoln Road, a glitzy pedestrian mall traversing the island, has its doors flung wide open, rainbow-colored Kerry/Edwards propaganda spilling out onto the sidewalk.

Downtown Miami, by contrast, was dead silent by the time I left the ACT office on Biscayne Blvd at dusk. Vacant lots, empty homes and office buildings, and new construction sites make for a dismal landscape of urban decay and impending gentrification. Developers are trying to extend the flashy atmosphere of Miami Beach to downtown, catering to upscale young professionals that might possibly want to live where they work. But for now, most everyone who can afford to lives away from downtown, and far from Overtown, the adjoining historically Black neighborhood.

I had learned a little bit about Overtown from friends who came to Miami to protest the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) summit in November 2003. Refusing to believe the hype that Overtown was a dangerous ghetto, a number of activists worked with community leaders in Overtown to plant fruit trees and help with a community gardening project. In the process they learned about how this once thriving Black neighborhood has been systematically destroyed by racist policing, freeway construction, and malignant neglect on the part of city and county officials. These activists also learned to connect the situation in Overtown with the process of corporate globalization, as well as with their own experiences of police oppression at protests. [1]

Today I got to see Overtown during my first round of door-to-door canvassing with ACT. My team knocked on doors at one apartment complex, where at least half of the residents were not citizens. The few voters we did talk to were very interested in getting to the polls, and were glad to hear they could vote at a nearby fire station. Otherwise, we mostly drove around in circles through a maze of streets blocked by freeways, empty lots and railroad tracks. Three story concrete block apartment buildings scattered the blocks, interrupted by the occasional church or liquor store advertising "Food Stamps Accepted Here." Groups of men converged in plastic chairs under cool trees. The lack of economic activity, the lack of activity in general, stood in sharp contrast to the booming economy, new buildings, and thick traffic I had seen elsewhere in Miami. What city was I in? What country was I in?

This afternoon brought us to a vastly different area of Miami: Coral Gables, near the University of Miami. Top of the line SUVs vied for space in the curving driveways of enormous single family homes surrounded by lush palms. Residents marked their political territories with lawn signs, Bush alternating with Kerry, with no apparent economic difference between neighbors supporting either party. Few people could be seen on the street, except for the occasional jogger or dog-walker. Nearly everyone who answered the door had already voted, or was planning to vote at the church around the corner on Tuesday. A few people expressed frustration that they had been canvassed numerous times in the last week, and they were sick of being bothered by strangers. All in all, this was a politically savvy neighborhood that hardly seemed to need us telling them when and where to vote, much less which candidate to support. As our Peruvian driver commented, these were people with money, education, and already had their minds made up. Weren't there other people we could be reaching out to?

Tomorrow the strategy of getting people to vote early is sure to change, since it is the last day before Tuesday, and only two polling locations in the entire county are open. Instead, I expect to be doing more street outreach with a bilingual team in neighborhoods where people might not know where to vote, or might feel intimidated away from the polls by long lines or Republican scare tactics.

_____

[1] Check out the Indymedia documentary "The Miami Model" for in-depth coverage of the FTAA protests and many other issues faced by residents in South Florida.

 
 


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