Our destination today was Tallahasse, capitol of Florida.
Honestly, I’ve never really spent much time in Tallahassee. I know people who went to school here, and I visited the historic capitol building on field trips, but that’s about it. I also went here a few times with my mom for protests, but that was before things got worse. When I was a kid, I remember her being gone sometimes because she had been arrested. I also remember her coming home one time with a broken arm and black eye after being gone for a few weeks. She definitely didn’t take me along to any protests after that.
The atmosphere in Tallahassee is so much different than it was in Pensacola. That’s always been true, of course. Tallahassee is so much bigger and the politics are so different here. But Florence took all of those differences and exaggerated them. Especially all of the problems with Tallahassee.
The whole state is technically still in a special state of emergency, but it didn’t feel that way at all in Pensacola. There were a few signs — more police than usual, a few armored personnel carriers tucked away in certain places, a few big unmarked vehicles that you had to wonder about. But you almost didn’t notice it because it was very low-key. Our hosts were polite and friendly and didn’t give us any trouble when they found out that we were staying in our vehicles rather than hotels.
Tallahassee, on the other hand, is definitely in a state of emergency. The city is full of armored personnel carriers from the National Guard, black SUVs from Bastion and Homeland Security, foot patrols by either Bastion or maybe S.W.A.T. in black body armor, and so on. It seems like martial law to me, but Jess says it’s technically called a state of emergency since we have bureaucrats rather than generals running the show.
I missed out on the worst of it back in June when the first wave of refugees from South Florida made it up here. While I was making my way to Alejandra in Carbondale, some of the refugees and locals organized a massive occupation inspired by the old Occupy movement. There were thousands of people in the streets marching and rallying and pitching tents at several locations throughout the city, including the Gaines Street Commons where the original Occupy Tallahassee was located. Their demands included emergency city and state aid for the refugees so that they wouldn’t end up in FEMA camps like so many others who were left homeless in the wake of Florence.
But most of it only lasted for few days. The city and state were both declared disaster areas and the demonstrators were all removed by force. The more peaceful ones were driven out, detained for a couple of days, or sent to the FEMA camps if they were homeless. But the more violent ones put up a fight — bricks, rocks, Molotov cocktails, improvised weapons, even some armed resistance. There were a few casualties on the side of government and Bastion, but about two dozen violent protesters were killed and hundreds more were arrested and charged as domestic terrorists.
After that, the streets of Tallahassee got a lot more quiet. Honestly, it’s more quiet here than it used to be before Florence. You see almost as many people and vehicles on the street as you used to, but a lot of them are armed troops instead of regular pedestrians and drivers. There are still some very low-key protests and even some people camping out who have gotten special use permits with the help of local nonprofits and businesses. But it’s all very subdued and a little surreal.
Of course, we were hassled when we got here. There are spots along the major routes into the city where small groups of Homeland Security and National Guard are watching the traffic. If they see anyone interesting, they pull them over.
So they pulled us over. It was the usual deal, like back in Mississippi — get out of the vehicle, give them your papers, get frisked, get your vehicle searched, get your background checked, and so on. The person leading the stop was a young woman in a suit who was much more polite than Officer Friendly back in Mississippi. But her answer was basically the same.
“All individuals and groups with any possible ties to the Green Front are automatically under suspicion of domestic terrorism. If you and your party are not currently breaking the law, or planning to break the law, you have nothing to fear.”
Jess tends to be political, so she was the one really pushing the issue again this time. What about our constitutional rights? What about this amendment and that amendment? How long is this so-called “state of emergency” going to last?
The agent had a way of responding to Jess that seemed to answer all of her questions but really lead back in a circle. Honestly, I think she was just keeping us occupied while the men and women with assault rifles did the searches and ran the background checks.
After a while, they let us go. In a way, it ended up not being a big deal because they didn’t detain us very long, didn’t hurt us, didn’t arrest us, and so on. But in a way, it’s always a big deal. Our rights are eroding almost as quickly as our shores. It could be worse, but even so, it’s always important to talk about it. We shouldn’t just take it for granted like so many people do. Like I used to when it wasn’t happening to me.
Anyway, once we made it through the checkpoint, we went straight to our destination. The local Miami Diaspora group has a small office that they use to coordinate relief efforts for displaced Miamians in Tallahassee and beyond. There was nowhere nearby to park the bus, so some of our team had to walk about a mile to get to the office. We also left two people stationed there to guard the bus.
I spent most of the day in meetings at the Miami Diaspora office. They’re helping us to connect with a few other groups that also want to rebuild Miami as a model of climate mitigation and adaptation. There are a lot of people talking about some type of “green recovery” of Miami, so it’s been hard to figure out who’s just talking and who’s actually doing anything. Today’s meeting was restricted to people who are either in Miami now or people who are physically on their way there. That kept it down to a very manageable number — four of us in the Tallahassee office and two separate people joining us through some old-fashioned telepresence on two laptop computers.
While I was in those meetings, the rest of the team had their own tasks to work on. Ten and Harold went off to garden together again. I’m starting to wonder if they both just love gardening that much, or if they just like spending time with each other, or both. Whatever it is, it’s good to see them working together so well. Two or three other people from our team stuck around the office for special meetings, but the rest went out to volunteer at a place nearby that served as soup kitchen and emergency shelter. Mostly it was just me, Jess, and Ermete.
Jess and Ermete spent all day and some of the night working on a project that seemed very strange but sounded like a lot of fun. It was a new crowdsourced online game about global warming. You get to play a character and respond to various situations and challenges. Ermete was mostly working on the technical end, taking a break every once in a while to sit down next to Jess and throw out some ideas about philosophy and gameplay. Jess was working with two other people on some of the ideas and systems of the game — the economics, the social aspects, little missions for the characters, and so on.
I would look over at them working sometimes while I was on break from my meetings. It was fun watching Ermete drift back and forth between jobs and seeing both of them get so excited about the details of this game. Some of it was very serious, but there was also a lot of laughing, smiling, having a good time. That was a welcome change from how stressed out and depressed we all get sometimes. They hope to work on this game in their spare time while we’re in Miami. I hope they can do that too.
The game is called Adventures in Global Warming (AGW). The team that’s working on it is putting a few important functions into a single game. One aspect is fundraising — having people make small donations so that their characters can buy in-game items like special clothes, a vintage Tesla Roadster, a rare speed boat, and in-game currency for other supplies, which is especially important for the characters pursuing community goals rather than getting a bunch of cool stuff. Another part of it involves education — showing people some of the current and future effects of global warming in their region. This includes making the game get harder as it goes on, which they’re worried will turn off some players, but is unfortuantely quite realistic. There was also some advocacy — notifications in the game about real-world actions you can take like petitioning your local politicians, buying or growing local food, and so on. It even gives you in-game rewards for donating some of your computer’s processing power to various types of scientific research about global warming.
I’ve never really been big into online games, so it all seemed a little strange to me. Why not just do some of these things in real life instead of having your character do them in a game? But it sounds like it’s going to do a lot of specific good things for the cause, not the least of which being to raise money for some nonprofits.
So that was how our day went. We’re all sleeping in the office except for the guards who are on duty in shifts at the bus. Ten and Harold are both already asleep on sleeping pads. Ermete is falling asleep on a small couch. Jess is laying down on her sleeping pad and tapping on her tablet while she falls asleep. I’m sitting in an office chair because I don’t like typing long entries like this when I’m fully laying down. But now that I’m done for the night, I’ll go sleep with Jess and Ermete on that side of the office.
We have another early morning ahead of us. When we leave Tallahasee tomorrow, we have one more city to visit along our route. Then if all goes well, we’ll be arriving in Miami the day after tomorrow. Just thinking about it fills me with a mix of excitement and apprehension that makes it hard to sleep, even as tired as I am. But I’m going to try. Wish me luck.