Hundreds of senior citizens, religious leaders, community organizers, and Occupy Wall Street activists have descended upon St. Petersburg to protest at the Republican National Convention’s welcome event at Tropicana Field.
More than 1,800 law enforcement officers from federal, state, and local agencies worked in tandem over the last 36 hours to secure the stadium by closing surrounding roads, implementing parking restrictions, and monitoring traffic flow to facilitate the peaceful protests.
Some protesters rode down on buses provided by Occupy, including an activist named Susan, 62, who told the Huffington Post she was laid off from her job in a hospital last fall and has since been receiving unemployment benefits.
Working in the hospital, Susan said, she had seen the Great Recession’s effects up close.
“Medicaid is being cut,” she said. “Charity care is being cut. So the hospital is really struggling.” She said she felt compelled to march against Mitt Romney and the RNC. There had been plans for five buses to come down to Florida from New York, but the storm kept a lot of people at home, she said. Only two buses ended up making the 22-hour trip.
Judy Sellers, 66, a retired school teacher, told the Huffington Post she hadn’t attended a protest since Vietnam, but “this is just as important to me.”
Sellers said that she’s been middle-class all her life. She’s concerned that kids won’t be able to afford college and she’s disturbed by the way she thinks Republicans have maligned teachers. “We work our butts off,” she said. “It’s not right.”
Bank of America quickly became a primary target for activists. Carrying a giant statue of Mitt Romney wearing a sign that said “King of the 1%,” hundreds of activists (one report put the count higher at “roughly 1,000”) gathered in a downtown park for an unschedule protest before speakers criticized tax cuts for the rich, and half the group split off to march across the street to Bank of America plaza.
They carried signs and chanted slogans against the “one percent.” Several demonstrators — armed with crayons and stickers — began pasting and scribbling slogans across the sidewalk and building pillars. One sign read: “You stole our money; we want it back.”
The ubiquitous Code Pink was also in attendance and held signs including, “Vagina. If you can’t say it, don’t legislate it,” and “GOP, respect women.”