By TAMARA LUSH
The few hundred protesters gathered under rainy skies in a park about a half-mile from the GOP convention on Sunday said an impending hurricane that is supposed to dump heavy rains on Tampa won’t deter them from trying to get out their message that America needs to change, especially for the middle class.
Giant blocks of ice spelling out the words “middle class” are melting on a warm, sticky day. Occupy protesters say it represents the melting away of the middle class in America.
That message rings true for 52-year-old Tom Gaurapp and Cheryl Landecker from Freeport, Ill. Both worked for Sensata Technologies in the city of some 25,000 people and say 170 jobs there, including their own, were outsourced to China. Occupy is a left-leaning protest group of people in their mid-20s who generally believe that the financial system is stacked against a majority of people.
Gaurapp and Landecker say that just a few years ago, they never would have considered joining such a protest.
Tropical Storm Isaac is expected to become a dangerous Category 2 hurricane by the time it makes land over the northern Gulf Coast sometime late Tuesday or early Wednesday. Tampa is expected to feel the brunt of the storm with heavy rainfall on Monday. The forecast caused Republicans to postpone their convention activities on Monday’s opening day and not that many delegates seemed to be around Sunday to see the protesters.
The protests stayed small also by mid-afternoon.
The weather isn’t a deterrent to 52 year-old Donald Butner, who says he’s been sleeping at the Occupy camp in Tampa for a few months and that “we’re here, baby, rain or shine. The weather is going to do what it is going to do.”
The protesters chanted “we are the 99 percent” and carried homemade signs. The 99 percent refers to the group’s message that most don’t share in the wealth of America. Often, younger people make up the Occupy protests, but in Tampa, several older people joined the marchers.
That included the 54-year-old Landecker , who spoke to the group as rain started falling.
Though protesters vow to stay put, if the weather threatens their safety or that of visitors on the streets, police officers will use public address systems and go person-to-person to warn them to leave, said Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor.
About 50 people, from Occupy Wall Street and Code Pink groups, marched from the park about two blocks to the Tampa theater where the Faith and Freedom Coalition was holding an event. The protesters waved signs in front of people waiting to get into the theater, and seven of them lay down in front of the entrance. Other protesters covered them in a red cloth.
They were on the ground for about five minutes. When police asked them to move, they did, and then marched back to the park.
Code Pink is a women-focused group pushing to end the U.S.-led wars abroad. They held signs including, “Vagina. If you can’t say it, don’t legislate it,” and “GOP, respect women.”
Associated Press writer Brendan Farrington contributed to this report.