Appeal for Letters to Authorities to Defend Free Speech in Miami
By Pete Seidman
MIAMI — On Sunday, May 28, about 35 people in 30 vehicles, plus two courageous bicyclists, brought to the streets of this city our call to end the U.S. blockade of Cuba and for Washington to remove the island nation from the State Department’s list of “state sponsors of terrorism.” The caravan ended with participants lined up along a sidewalk at the Miami International Airport, where hundreds of drivers and others saw and heard our demands.
The action took place without incident despite threats by right-wing supporters of U.S. policy toward Cuba.
Counter-protesters had forced the previous caravan, which took place on March 26, to organize a shorter route and abandon plans for a closing rally, out of concern for our safety. During that caravan, officers of the Coral Gables Police Department stood by, refusing to guarantee the physical safety of the caravan despite the aggressive and provocative actions of more than 70 blockade supporters who far outnumbered us.
In January, a gang of thugs spat on and shoved caravan marshals as Coral Gables police officers looked on for about 10 minutes. The police only intervened after it became clear the rightists were not going to succeed in their attempts to provoke a fight.
In February, vehicles driven by rightists stopped the caravan in broad daylight. Then, about 20 thugs walked among our vehicles ripping off signs and flags and banging on windows.
There was no Miami caravan in April.
More than 40 rightist counter-protesters showed up at the May action, fewer than there had been in March.
The May caravan assembled at a site in the jurisdiction of the Miami Police Department, not in Coral Gables. Miami officers conducted themselves according to protocols a caravan attorney insisted upon in earlier correspondence. Our attorney cited case law in other states establishing the right of protesters to be protected from “hecklers vetoes” — up-close and provocative actions and loud sound systems opponents use to effectively shut down the ability to peacefully assemble and protest.
City police ran yellow tape along both sides of our SW 6th Street assembly point, keeping the supporters of the blockade across the street. They dispersed after the caravan took off. There were no incidents along our route. Again, this was a different outcome than those during the January, February, and March caravans.
This time, we proceeded down SW 6th Street to SW 19th Avenue. From there we headed east on the part of Calle Ocho (Eighth Street) most frequented by pedestrians and tourists in the heavily Cuban area of Miami known as “Little Havana.”
As we got to interstate I-95, caravan vehicles separated and made our way to the Miami International Airport’s “free speech area.” We determined that the airport police, despite some earlier confusion, would not deny us the right to stand on the airport’s outward sidewalk — holding up signs, chanting our opposition to the blockade, and expressing our solidarity with the people of Cuba. We did so with no problems. The action ended with the singing of La Bayamesa, the Cuban national anthem.
I have participated in many caravans. I would say the response from the numerous people hanging out along 6th Street, as well as Calle Ocho, was the friendliest I have seen so far. We saw many people with thumbs up, waves, smiles, and clenched fists and fewer middle fingers. It was very encouraging.
Because caravan organizers have such important responsibilities to assert our constitutional right to express our views and to ensure our safety, in response to the right-wing harassment of the caravans, we sometimes forget that bringing our message to a broader audience is our main purpose and that the reactions we receive are the main measure of our success.
We know there are thousands of Cubans and others in Miami who agree with our demands. We need to get past the media blockade, and the deliberate rightist efforts to cloak our caravans in fear, so that we can realize the potential of expanding our numbers.
Sunday’s positive experience gives us an important base for rebuilding the caravan among a layer of people who had grown a bit afraid because of the rightist harassment and the earlier inaction of the police in Coral Gables and Miami Beach.
A Committee to Defend Free Speech in Miami has been formed with the goal of putting authorities in those cities, and in Miami Dade County as a whole, on notice that they will pay a political price for any refusal to uphold our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly. (See appeal for help below.)
Upcoming actions include a June 25 demonstration at the White House in Washington, D.C. sponsored by the National Network on Cuba and endorsed by more than 70 organizations. Local support actions are taking place across the United States that day as well, demanding that U.S. president Joe Biden take Cuba off the list of “State Sponsors of Terrorism” and lift all U.S. sanctions against Cuba.
Appeal for Help to Defend Free Speech in Miami
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
For the last three months, there have been increasingly violent attacks and threats against the Miami Caravan Against the US Blockade of Cuba by supporters of the blockade. Police authorities under the direction of various local government jurisdictions have stood by, refusing to take action to protect the caravan’s First Amendment rights.
We hold the county and city authorities where these violations are taking place responsible! Opponents of the blockade represent a significant sector of public opinion in Miami where the largest number of Cubans outside of Cuba live. It is crucial to protect their right to freedom of speech.
We urge people around the world to send letters protesting the failure of these political authorities to keep civil liberties safe in Miami.
Committee to Defend Free Speech in Miami
Here is a list of those most directly responsible:
Miami-Dade County Board of Commissioners Chairman Oliver G. Gilbert, III
District 1 Main Office
17988 NW 27th Avenue, Miami Gardens, FL 33056
305-474-3011 | District1@miamidade.gov
City of Miami Mayor Francis X. Suarez
Miami Riverside Center (MRC)
444 SW 2nd Ave
Miami, FL, 33130
305-468-5900 | email@example.com
City of Coral Gables Mayor Vince C. Lago
405 Biltmore Way
Coral Gables, FL 33143
305-460-5304 | firstname.lastname@example.org
City of Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber
1700 Convention Center Drive,
Miami Beach, FL 33139
305-673-7035 | DanGelber@miamibeachfl.gov
Pete Seidman is an organizer of the Miami Caravan Against the U.S. Blockade of Cuba.
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Categories: Cuba/Cuba Solidarity