Protesters Occupy Tampa; a Tune-Up for GOP Convention?
Around the State
Occupying the steps of the old courthouse in downtown Tampa, raucous protesters chanted "This is Our House" Thursday night after a daylong "Occupy Tampa" demonstration.
More than 500 people massed at Lykes Gaslight Park for a downtown march that followed along the lines of the Occupy Wall Street protests entering their third week in New York City.
Peaceful protesters in Tampa vowed to continue their campaign against "corporate greed" Friday, but police moved the crowd out of Gaslight Park, which closes at dusk. Demonstrators, carrying sleeping bags and tents, began seeking overnight shelter on church steps and other homeless hangouts.
Banging drums and carrying home-made signs, the crowd was an eclectic mix of college students, unreconstructed hippies and the burgeoning ranks of the unemployed.
Chanting "We are the 99 Percent," protesters displayed slogans ranging from "Non-Violent, But Pissed" to "Israel: a Terrorist Nation."
Occupy Tampa's overarching theme was captured by a banner declaring: "Corporate greed has corrupted our government and society."
With an eye to Wall Street, Tampa activist Clay Colson declared, "The banksters have engaged in criminal activities. They should be prosecuted under RICO statutes."
Without bullhorns and megaphones, which were prohibited at Gaslight Park, a chorus of Tampa protesters loudly repeated what speakers were saying to the crowd.
An almost-festive atmosphere echoed the ambience of the New York protests, which have attracted up to 5,000 demonstrators to that city's financial district.
And like the Occupy Wall Street protests, the Tampa event appeared to be a largely grass-roots uprising with no central organization.
But there were skeptics on the sidelines.
"I believe at the very top of these 'impromptu' demonstrations is a group of trained and committed collectivists," said Andrew Nappi, state director of the libertarian-leaning Florida Tenth Amendment Center.
"My sense is this is a trial run to measure what kind of strength they can muster for that time when they are ready to launch a full-blown 'pressure from below and above' campaign. That was the tactic that gave the Czechs to the Reds. The game plan was published in the United States as 'And Not A Shot Is Fired.'"
In New York, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain waded in.
"They're basically saying that somehow the government is supposed to take from those that have succeeded and give to those who want to protest. That's not the way America was built," Cain said.
"Don't blame Wall Street, don't blame the big banks if you don't have a job and you're not rich, blame yourself."
President Barack Obama, at a White House news conference Thursday, was more sympathetic. He offered that protesters were "expressing the frustration of the American people."
With the ranks of the New York protest swelled by union members and George Soros' MoveOn.org, conservative pundits figure that the Occupy legions are merely foot soldiers for the president's re-election campaign.
But Seth McKee, a political science professor at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, said the diffuse and viral nature of the Occupy demonstrations rolling out nationwide can be perilous for politicians.
"A bottom-up approach is more raw, and more dangerous from a political standpoint," he said.
Indeed, an acerbic tweet from #OccupyWallStreet tweaked the president, saying, "A band-aid isn't going to fix any problems, Obama."
The Occupy movement appears to draw from both the left and the right. Anti-war and anti-Federal Reserve protesters carrying "End the Fed" banners are as likely to be Ron Paul acolytes as they are Ralph Nader devotees.
And participants from both ends of the political spectrum note that liberal Democrats like Obama have been as adept at collecting large corporate contributions as have Republicans.
But Republicans may have the most at stake as their national convention is scheduled for Tampa next summer. Some wonder if Occupy Tampa isn't simply a warm-up for that event, where the GOP will officially anoint its presidential nominee.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, a Democrat, did not return a call from Sunshine State News seeking comment.
Sue Clark, an interfaith minister in Tampa, said, "I am proud of the courageous Floridians voicing their frustrations in a peaceful manner. We are all equal, and no one class, institution or government standard should oppress individuals or entire sectors of our society.
"With the Occupy movement, we are fighting to live equally and free."
Contact Kenric Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (772) 801-5341.