After three weeks on the road, the two caravans of property-rights advocates that have been traversing the country along separate routes as part of the Sawgrass Rebellion converged yesterday in Tallahassee, Fla., and are heading south to Collier County, on the final phase of their journey.
Tomorrow, there in the rural area east of Naples, the first of two rallies will be held intended to focus attention on the plight of farmers and other property owners victimized by flooding by the Everglades Restoration Project.
A second rally will be held Saturday across the state in Dade County.
“We’re on schedule, and we’ll be on schedule when we arrive in South Florida for the rally Friday,” said Bill Ransom, a farmer from the Klamath Basin and spokesperson for the western convoy.
“Everything has been going great,” he added. “The crowds have been supportive, and we’ve been treated wonderfully wherever we’ve gone.”
The Friday event is being billed not as a rally, but as a “national block party and yard sale” – and the Naples-based Property Rights Action Committee, the hosting organization, says everybody in the nation is invited.
“We’ve decided to bring everyone right to our homes,” PRAC announced in a press release. “Coincidentally, our homes happen to be directly in the heart of one of the areas targeted for destruction by the U. S. Corps of Engineers as part of the Everglades Reclamation Project.”
The press release continues: “On Saturday, after all the fun and festivities, we will muster the troops and vehicles for a convoy across the Everglades via Alligator Alley (Interstate Highway 75) to a second event, in or near another heavily-battered community in Homestead, Fla.”
“With city and county blessings, permits have been issued, security has been arranged, entertainers booked and dignitaries confirmed,” the event organizers state.
That’s a relief to a lot of people – particularly the convoy riders – for at one point it seemed the rallies would have to be called off because of difficulties securing permits in both Collier and Dade counties.
As WND columnist Henry Lamb reported, local organizations in South Florida had been working since mid-July to secure suitable locations and the necessary permits for the October events, but obstacles of various sorts appeared at every step of the way.
“Some of the organizers are pointing fingers of blame at local politicians, while local politicians are blaming the organizers,” Lamb wrote. “Bottom line is, the previously planned and much-touted events will not occur.”
The decision to cancel was made just days after the two western convoys – one starting from Klamath Falls, Ore., the second from the small mountain community of Idyllwild in Southern California – were already up and rolling. They had held a series of planned rallies and auctions at stops along their routes, then merged and drove together to Elko, Nev., where they raised some $7,000 for the Sawgrass Relief Fund.
The shoe dropped the following morning. During breakfast, a small group of convoy riders learned about the cancellation.
Kehn Gibson, a reporter traveling with the convoy from Klamath Falls, described the scene in the restaurant when the news arrived – and the almost immediate decision to continue on to Florida, rally or no rally.
“As the conversation died down around the table,” Gibson reported, “eyes turned expectantly in [Bill] Ransom’s direction. ‘We promised we would to go to Florida to help the farmers there,’ Ransom told the group in an even voice. ‘We don’t break promises. We are going to Florida.'”
And go they did. On Oct. 5, a second convoy set out from London, Ohio, where a rally similar in spirit and purpose to the one scheduled for this weekend, had been held in Sept. 2000. The issue then was an attempt by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to create a nature preserve of central-Ohio farmland – a plan that has been set aside, at least temporarily. This second convoy wove its way down the eastern seaboard, led by Dale Rapp, one of the organizers of the 2000 event.
But despite the convoy riders’ enthusiasm, for a while it was touch-and-go – after all, if the group couldn’t get permits, where could a rally be held?
At that point, Bill Lhota, who heads the Property Rights Action Committee, stepped forward and offered to host the event at his home outside of Naples, where he has a large spread of land in a rural area
Permits are a lot easier to get for a “block party” or “neighborhood event” than for an all-star extravaganza that had somehow developed from the original plans.
“Things are shaping up for a great day,” says Lhota. “Even the weather promises to be cooler and drier. We’re looking forward to a great day with plenty of food, music and dignitaries from across the country. We (Property Rights Action Committee) couldn’t be more pleased with how this has come together. Obviously, the event will be a greater success with a large crowd, but even if we don’t get the numbers, the event has proven that a few good people with the tenacity and spirit to make it happen have come together and worked as a team to begin correcting the problems facing South Florida.”
Says Jay Walley, with the Paragon Foundation, the original sponsor of the rally, “We’ve worked hard to put this event together. Regrettably, we were initially sidetracked by groups and individuals that neither understood our intent nor understood the importance of true grass-roots activism. We’ve moved beyond that now and look forward to building coalitions and networks within the Florida communities.”