Citizens exercise rights at Occupy St Augustine

When several hundred residents and students showed up in the Plaza in downtown St. Augustine yesterday, they faced overcast skies, drizzles of rain and 60-degree, gusty winds; but they were not deterred in their purpose — to give a voice and raise awareness to what may become a more organized movement of protest by “the 99%”.

One of the organizers of the event, local resident Aubrey Skillman, spoke with Historic City News about his views of the independent, grass-roots citizens groups that have been in the news since the “Occupy Wall Street” movement began last month.

Skillman said, “Look at me. I’m a regular guy. I work for a living. I’m married.” Skillman was making his point that he is not some “kook” — and he’s not. “When I leave here, I’m going home and watch a football game.”

Skillman is a friendly, energetic guy who sees problems with the way the wealthiest people and corporations in America, “the 1%”, unduly exert control and influence over the government in our country.

He is a 34 year-old resident and a registered voter of the Socialist Party of Florida; according to the records of the Supervisor of Elections. Moreover, unlike the majority our 142,451 registered voters in St. Johns County, he actually voted in the last three elections.

He told reporters that he was pleased with the turnout Saturday, despite a confluence of circumstances that another organizer, Terry Buckenmeyer, said he figured would have hurt the turnout. In addition to threatening outdoor weather, the battery in the portable public address system went out — at one point, the crowd was repeating the words the speaker was saying, sentence for sentence, so others in the back could hear.

Buckenmeyer told editor Michael Gold, who attended the protest for Historic City News, that he hopes more local people will step up and show interest in a more formal organization to advance the cause of the 99%.

Buckenmeyer has been often quoted in the press and he told us that “sometimes” it’s what he said. He has been involved in the feedings in the plaza and the Food Not Bombs collective and is an active delegate of the Gainesville General Membership Branch of Industrial Workers of the World, IU 640.

Buckenmeyer is 64 years-old and is a registered voter; with no party affiliation. He describes himself as a person who sees a problem, sees an answer, and then just does it. “Seven years ago, 4 young people saw hungry people and saw edible wasted food. They simply got the food and shared it with the hungry people,” Buckenmeyer said. “No charity, no corporations, no government, no rules, no bosses, no procedures — just action.”

Both Skillman and Buckenmeyer hold ideas about government that some will call radical. Skillman attended the recent occupy rally in Jacksonville, and, his mother, Jennie Skillman, just returned from an occupy event in New York. The Skillman’s and Buckenmeyer are peaceful people — none of them said they expected or wanted anything other than non-violent confrontations of ideas on Saturday. They got their wish.

The Occupy Movement as far away as Compton, California and as close as Tampa, Florida, has seen violence erupt at recent events. Police Commander Steven Fricke, Sergeant Brian Frasca, and Bicycle Officer Kevin Schmoll told Historic City News that there were no incidents of unruliness, no citations were issued, no arrests were made. “The crowd was well behaved.”

Corey C. Wilborn, a regional organizer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida in the Northeast Florida Region, circulated through the crowd — distributing literature outlining the participant’s constitutional right to peaceably assemble and petition for a governmental redress of grievances.

Skillman said that a declaration for the Occupy Movement is being presented soon that will begin to formally unite the individual citizens who share common concerns.

• Excessive cost to finance the war
• Injustice for the 99% due to corporate greed
• Inequality between the 1% and the remaining 99%
• Big money politics and campaign contributions
• Unresponsive federal government
• Government bailouts of private businesses
• Corrupt stock exchange manipulates prices

Buckenmeyer explained that he went through all the right channels and was careful that the event complied with all applicable ordinances and laws. Skillman said, “They were a little ridiculous, for example, we could hold our event here, but, we couldn’t put out a table for literature.”

One thing was apparent — citizens were willing to give up their Saturday afternoon and express their varying political opinions. In fact, one resident, 18 year-old Zachary Proscia Silva, used the occasion to announce that he has filed to run for the St. Johns County Board of Commissioners.

Silva lives in and is running for Seat 3; currently held by 28 year-old Mark Miner. He collected about forty or fifty petition cards, of the approximately 1400 needed to appear on the ballot without having to pay a qualifying fee.

Silva, who has lived here for the past 5 years, says he launched a new Facebook page to stay in communication with his campaign workers. “I want everyone to know that if I’m elected, I will be a commissioner who is available to speak directly to people.”

Silva graduated from St. Augustine High School this year and is attending Florida State College at Jacksonville. Since March, he has worked locally at the Black Raven Pirate Ship.

Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News staff photographer

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