By Diana Moreno
Standing on a bench in the middle of the University of South Florida campus, megaphone in hand, student activist Tyler Crawford speaks about corporate greed, student debt and the declining middle class. A crowd of about two hundred listen intently, cheering or booing along, holding up signs of the times. One of them reads, “Oppose the Spectacle,” another held tightly by an older woman, “They only call it class warfare when we fight back.”
This is what participating in the democratic process looks like for many who feel shut out of the presidential debates. Although this group came to protest the Republican agenda, none came holding an Obama 2012 sign. The general sentiment is that of disillusion and outrage against the entire political system of which they feel left out. Not even the students enrolled at USF were able to witness the supposed marvel of democracy at work on their campus. The seats were reserved for those who paid top dollar, a pretty good analogy for the presidential election process.
The students and residents who wanted to watch the spectacle were stuck in a tent set up on the lawn outside the auditorium. When the protesters organized a march toward the auditorium, the lawn became the site of the real political debate. Chants denouncing racism and demanding higher taxes on the rich were yelled out as the march continued toward the metal barricades set up by police. Some Ron Paul supporters clashed verbally with members of Occupy Tampa Bay, and the chants grew louder and more aggressive as Newt Gingrich supporters tried making their way toward the tent.
The unexpected arrival of controversial pastor Terry Jones (read: Koran burner) riled the crowd even more as the chants turned to “Stop the Hate.” People started surrounding Jones and his dozen or so followers, all of which were sporting Terry Jones for President 2012 T-shirts. Ironically, Terry Jones seemed to be marching around, demanding that his voice should also be heard. He tried standing on a bench with his sidekick, holding a megaphone up to his mouth, but the surrounding crowd muted his words. No cheering for the right-wing extremist. His group eventually walked away.
The protesters reassembled around the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial and had a couple of speakers share closing comments before ending the event. Marisol Marquez, a member of the Tampa chapter of Students for a Democratic Society, said the following: “As a woman, a Chicana and an activist, I’m the embodiment of what they [Republicans] hate.” She asked the crowd to remember that the political process they were building was unlike that of the debaters inside the stadium. “We’re doing it from the bottom up. Whatever it takes, no matter how long it takes, we’ll make our voices heard,” she said.
Photos taken Jan. 23 by Michela Martinazzi outside outside Florida’s Republican primary debate in Tampa.