The Occupy movement has spread across America including our sun baked town of Tampa. A healthy amount of people fed up with the current state of our government and, in extension, our country gathered at Lykes Gaslight Park in Downtown Tampa to voice their dissatisfied opinions in a peaceful manner.
While most of us think of protestors as young hippie radicals, I regret to inform you that the Occupy Tampa movement is made up of more than just young men and women in torn and tattered clothing pumping fists in opposition of everything. Maybe you won’t believe it when I tell you that there were people of all ages and economic backgrounds there Saturday. By mid-day there were at least 300 people organizing into smaller groups of discussion, waving signs of general protest. While eccentricity was in full bloom for some of the crowd, there were plenty of “normal” people there too.
I’m sure you’ve seen the slogan, “We are the 99%”, and while I don’t believe the full 99% will ever show up for this kind of thing, it was still nice to see a healthy portion of the disenfranchised show up. Fortunately for the Occupy Tampa movement there has been no serious problems with city authorities. The Tampa movement is taking this seriously, replicating many of the movements in bigger cities like New York around the country.
People are occupying city areas all throughout the day and night. While the hardcore Occupy members aren’t allowed to camp in the parks overnight, many are camping on the sidewalks to continue their protests in the morning. So far there have been no arrests, something no other Occupy movement can claim. We will have to wait and see if that continues or not. So far the Occupy Tampa movement is serious about their non-violent protests and the Tampa Police are so far serious about not getting violent with the protestors.
While the mainstream media has so far been loathe to give the Occupy movements serious coverage, the Occupy Tampa organizers told me there has been some sparse coverage of the movement on the local TV and radio shows. Bubba the Love Sponge a local radio celebrity has shown up at the protests and pledged his radio voice in support. The local ABC affiliate sent down a lone reporter to take some video of the event on Saturday. I talked briefly with her about how her company is dealing with the situation (how are they portraying the movement? What do they think of the events downtown, etc.) and she was unable to comment on any of my questions due to company policy. I kind of expected that.
I talked to a number of the people at Lykes Gaslight Park on Saturday and got a nice array of comments on why they were there and what they thought of it all. Aaron, a homeless man who has been on the Tampa streets for eight years, wouldn’t comment on what he thought of the movement itself, but he thought it was nice to see such a nice mix of young and old people standing up for their rights. 83 year old Vietnam war veteran, Bud, who has been protesting the wars in the middle east for years now, was proud to see the young people show up. Bud is angry at the constant war America is involving itself in and thinks its time for some real change. 76 year-old Marianne, a St. Pete native fed up with the governments response to the older population, has been traveling all over Florida recently protesting with the Occupy movement and other anti-war organizations in hopes of a change.
Tracy Crocker, a mother of a soldier serving currently in Afghanistan, is part of the Buildamerica.org crowd, and while she’s not a lifelong protestor, she’s been moved to make her voice heard, to help educate others in less fortunate situations than herself.
The whole day had a very positive feel to it, despite the direness of what these folks are protesting against. There were the requisite drum circles and sign making sessions, but there were support and work groups to discuss the problems people are having and how to survive in these less than prosperous times.
The sign wavers told me they were receiving lots of support in the way of cars honking as they drove by. But there were those times when cars drove by and slung insults and derogatory terms at the protestors as they drove by too. These people were described as the more well to do. I witnessed one man in a red convertible flip the bird to us as he passed by.
The Occupy Tampa movement intends to be there until the problem goes away, but if you are curious, stop by and check it out. It’s a come one, come all environment with a healthy mix of people. There’s free coffee, food and workshops to keep you involved. Show your support and help make a change for everybody.