MIAMI — On February 11, Joe Carollo, the city commissioner for District 3 in Miami, was giving a short speech at Maurice A. Ferré Park downtown during the ceremony for a new public art installation. The colorful sculptures of 52 cats and dogs painted by local artists, he suggested, would attract tourism and contribute to many Instagramable moments.
Suddenly, four members of CUCK — or the “Committee to Undermine the Carollo Klan” — walked in, fashionably late and dressed in chicken costumes. They held signs and handed out sleeveless tank tops (known by some as “wifebeaters”) with an image of Carollo’s 2001 mugshot from an arrest on a domestic battery charge. Carollo, the former mayor of Miami from 1996 to 1997 and 1998 to 2001, looked distracted for a minute, but continued his speech.
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Behind this public intervention was Florida native Billy Corben, who produced the Netflix documentary Cocaine Cowboys about 1980s Miami. He also founded CUCK along with other like-minded activists over a deep feeling of frustration with local politicians who, in their view, keep getting away with grifting and corruption.
“The chickens give a voice to the voiceless in our community,” Corben, who was at the event filming the action, told Hyperallergic. “People who are afraid to speak truth to power because they fear retribution from their own ‘public servants.’”
Chicken Morgan Gianola, a postdoc scholar at the University of Miami, was arrested during the action. “The idea was to get in, film a video on the sidelines, and get out,” Corben said. But ten minutes hadn’t yet passed when the police began following them. According to the Miami-Dade Police Department record obtained by Hyperallergic on February 23, Gianola was charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest without violence. He was released on Sunday, February 12 after posting bail.
This isn’t the first time that members of CUCK have shown up at Carollo or other politicians’ public events. The new sculpture garden was proposed controversially by a Florida politician with a controversial past: Ever since his beginnings working for the presidential campaign of George Wallace, the segregationist former governor of Alabama, Carollo had accumulated dozens of accounts of racism and demagoguery, without counting his domestic violence arrest when he was mayor.
For years, residents of District 3 had been asking officials to add a playground or at least fix the local fountain, but instead, they got a Dogs and Cats Walkaway paid for by almost $1 million in taxpayer money. The installation had been proposed to the Bayfront Park Management Trust Board in 2021 by Carollo, one of its members, and approved in a “rush-rush vote” that reportedly caused a board member, Claudia Palomo, to resign. “This process was done without public oversight,” said Thomas Kennedy, a writer and activist member of CUCK. “No approval and no chance for the public to comment on it. And there was no bidding, which to us, as people who have long watched our city government at work, no-bid contracts are a tell-tale sign of corruption.”
Hyperallergic attempted to contact Joe Carollo’s office via email and phone, but the commissioner has not yet responded to requests for comment. Carollo did state on NBC South Florida that “if their intention was to get my attention, they didn’t get it.”
CUCK doesn’t have an enemy list, because “corruption is not unique to any particular party in South Florida,” says Corben. With its performances, the group seeks to inform the public about the history of their elected officials and attract local news outlets to cover more stories of corruption so that they can put pressure on politicians, state attorneys, and local prosecutors.
“So what if it takes a man in a chicken costume holding a sign at a public event to get others to pay attention? So far, it’s working,” said Corben. “Before the chicken, it was tougher to raise awareness about corruption in Miami.”
Why chickens? “If you live in Coconut grove and are rich, you will see peacocks. If you live in a middle-class neighborhood like North Miami Beach, which has a canal or access to a lake, you will see ducks. And if you live in a low-income area as I do, in Allapattah, or Little Havana, you will see chickens,” Kennedy told Hyperallergic. “Wild chickens. So that’s what they represent. The wild, proletarian bird of Miami, fighting back.”