BY SOMMER BROKAW
While Republicans gathered this week in Tampa to take care of party business and select a presidential nominee with the hopes of unseating President Barack Obama in November, groups of protesters staged demonstrations throughout the week in hopes of having their voices heard – at least through media outlets that converged on Tampa Bay.
Despite the threat of Tropical Storm Isaac, faith-based leaders kicked off a protest on Sunday in St. Petersburg, not from Tropicana Field where the Republican National Convention was holding a kick-off party.
The Rev. Manuel Sykes, president of St. Petersburg’s NAACP, was among the speakers at that RNC protest on Sunday, speaking out against an agenda of corporate greed.
“There has been a time in our history where corporations and the super wealthy have sponsored, have campaigned for, and have helped to elect their leadership,” Sykes said. “The paradigm has shifted. Now, they’re coming out from behind the big paydays. They’re coming out from behind the golf courses and the fishing trips. They’re coming out now to run this country themselves.”
He added: “The education, health, and the welfare of the United States is sponsored by and paid for by our tax dollars, and we ought to fight anyone who wants to take our tax dollars and divvy it up among Robin Hood and his band of thieves. And so today, I’m here to say stop the United States from becoming America Inc.”
March by ’99 percent’
Sykes was one of the faith leaders that television crews captured speaking at the protest. The leaders were among hundred of protestors that convened in front of Mirror Lake in St. Petersburg for a community vigil at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday and marched from there to the Tropicana Field stadium shouting: “We are the 99 percent!”
According to organizers, the community vigil Sunday night mourned democracy killed by corporate greed. Some protesters even carried a casket to symbolize this death. “We’re here for a reason and that is to tell the 1 percent that the 99 percent are not sleeping, we’re awake, and we’re standing up for our rights,” said Chardonnay Singleton of the Florida Consumer Action Network (FCAN), which has an office in St. Petersburg.
Along with faith leaders, event organizers included FCAN; the Service Employees International Union (SEIU); Awake the State, a grassroots group of Floridians; Occupy Wall Street; the Sierra Club, an environmental group; and some teachers from Pinellas County Schools.
“We’re here because we’re looking for the change, but we have endorsed Obama because we truly feel that he’s meeting the needs of the people,” said Isaline Boyd, a grandmother who came to the event wearing a purple SEIU T-shirt to represent the workers.
Effigy of Romney
Many workers have kids in college that now qualify for health insurance under President Barack Obama’s health care reform. “These are things we need in our society and our environment, and we are now the working poor, there is no middle class,” Boyd said. “Two-hundred-fifty thousand dollars a year – that’s the new middle class.”
Protesters on the front line toted a symbolic check for $250,000 and an effigy of presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
The eclectic crowd of protestors ranged from faith leaders to an anarchist to a 9-year-old girl, Tykira Davis. Sherrona Steward came to the event with her boyfriend, Rory Flaherty, who is an anarchist. “I don’t like the domination of society by the wealthy,” her boyfriend said. The 9-year-old girl held up a sign that read: “We are the 99 percent.”
Similar to Occupy Wall Street, protesters said they were against the one percent – those are people who earn more than $250,000 a year – siphoning the U.S. economic resources. They represent the 99 percent – everyone else.
Jason Woody said that he came down from New York in one of the busloads with Occupy that will be there all week. He also represents a group called: “Money Out, Voters In” that aims to get corporate money out of elections. The group will also be protesting for the same cause at the Democratic National Convention the following week.
“Ladies and gentleman what’s going on inside that [Tropicana Field] stadium emphasizes everything that’s wrong with this economy, what’s wrong this country,” said Kelly Benjamin, one of the protestors on the front line and one of the speakers at the vigil prior to the march.
“They’re pushing an economy, an agenda there that works for people at the top, works for the 1 percent of people in this country, at the expense of everybody else.”
He added: “They have a fortified police state surrounding that Tropicana Field. It takes razor wire and 10-foot fences to separate the 99 percent from the 1 percent.” Then, he asked the crowd: “Is that alright?’’
And members of the crowd screamed: “No!”
Wind and rain from Tropical Storm Isaac kept a protest sponsored by the Coalition to March on the RNC smaller than expected. Predicted to draw about 5,000, only a few hundred protesters showed up in downtown Tampa for the march and rally on Monday afternoon.
John, a protester from Tampa who refused to give his last name, said many of those who marched in downtown Tampa, were non-partisan citizens who just want to be heard.
“There needs to be a change. People are mad. …Blacks are oppressed. Women are oppressed, the poor are oppressed. They should all be here with us… to be represented,” he told the Courier.
Primarily young and White, the protesters were from all over the country. A group from Atlanta said they also plan to demonstrate next month at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
Said one agitated protester said while being interviewed by a throng of reporters: “We’re against the system, not parties. … We’ve had enough.’’
Hundreds of police officers patrolled the streets of downtown, many wearing tan shirts and shorts, some on foot, others on bikes.
Michael Gentry, a Black homeless man who was not part of the rally, was on his usual corner of Jefferson and Scott streets in downtown Tampa, expressed his protest of the current administration with his “No More Obama’’ sign.
His one-man protest was working, he said, because more motorists, primarily White, were stopping to read his sign and buy the Tampa Epoch newspapers he sells daily. The Epoch is a homeless-focused newspaper. Black motorists, he admitted, hadn’t been kind and had blasted him and cussed him out on for the sign.
“I’ve never been keen on Obama and was for (former presidential candidate John) McCain” because of his military background, he told the Courier.
Gentry, who said he a former business owner who made some “bad decisions,’’ says he’s not rooting for Romney either.
“This man wants to run the U.S. like the CEO of a businesss,” which he considers the wrong approach.
Voter suppression protest
On Tuesday, the Florida Consumer Action Network sponsored a more targeted protest on voter suppression that kicked off on the official day of the RNC.
Over a hundred protestors gathered for the peaceful march that convened at 5 p.m. at Centennial Park to hear from state, local and national speakers along with spoken word artists and musicians that revved up the crowd before they marched through several blocks of the historic Tampa district winding back to the park.
Similar to earlier protests, demonstrators ranged from civil rights activists, of all ages, White, Black, and Latino, and Occupy groups and diverse politics groups from the Democratic Party, to Independents, to the Green Party to anarchists.
But a couple of Republican supporters, John Nelson and Robert Stevens, also were spotted there handing out threatening fliers with text from Protect the Polls website, which reads: “If you are a legal gun owner in the state of Florida and you suspect someone on Election Day is committing voter fraud you can shoot him or her with your licensed weapon and not be charged with a crime.
Precedents have already been set allowing these rights, like the important Stand Your Ground law, and in this case, there is more at stake than just one persons life; this is for the life of this great country.”
For the full PTP text, visit http://protectthepolls.com/What_is_PTP_.html.
The Rev. Charles McKenzie, a speaker at Tuesday’s rally and Florida coordinator of Rainbow PUSH Coalition, said that Nelson and Stevens weren’t that disruptive, but there are several groups designed to intimidate voters.
“We can’t allow them to intimidate us to the point where we don’t exercise the right to vote,” he said. “And we have to stand our ground to exercise our first amendment right and the right to vote. That is where the real stand your ground comes into place.”
Florida Courier Senior Editor Jenise Griffin Morgan contributed to this report.