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Occupy fever spreads in bay as St. Petersburg joins Tampa in protests

ST. PETERSBURG

More than 300 people showed up to Occupy St. Petersburg on Saturday, shouting "hey, hey, ho, ho, corporate greed has got to go," and joining similar rallies in Tampa, Orlando, Miami and Jacksonville and across the nation.

It was the first day the protest had come to St. Petersburg, and many said they were glad for the chance to bring the loosely knit movement to the Pinellas side of Tampa Bay.

Demonstrators milled about South Straub Park beneath a looming red steel sculpture called "Big Max," and showed off homemade signs with pointed messages: "Join us the 99 percent we R America," and "money poisons democracy" and "Wall Street: Think this is a mob? Keep doin' what you're doin.' "

Meanwhile, another 300 marched through downtown Tampa, beating drums and chanting "we are the 99 percent," as cars honked and passers-by waved and cheered. At one point, the group took to the steps of the Federal Courthouse and continued chanting before heading back to Lykes Gaslight Square Park.

In St. Petersburg, Millie Shipman came to speak against the "corporatocracy," her name for powerful corporations that she said have taken over the political process. Shipman, 59, of St. Petersburg raised a poster board that said: "I can't afford a politician so I made this sign."

Several others complained that elected officials have been essentially bought off by big corporations and don't represent regular folks anymore. Some called for overturning the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision of Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, which lifted many limitations on corporate money in federal elections.

Shannon O'Leary-Beck, 61, a Clearwater artist, said she was happy to gather with others to speak out. "I'm tired of screaming at my TV set."

Eckerd College senior Max Martinez, 21, came with four friends to protest, among other things, the overwhelming debt many college students take on. Liz Argento, 21, another Eckerd senior, said she was happy "to see people motivated instead of sitting back and doing nothing."

The St. Petersburg protest was peaceful and even well-organized as the crowd broke into smaller groups, planned what to do next, and set another event for 2 p.m. next Saturday. There were even designated "peacekeepers" wearing orange headbands.

At Occupy Tampa, Ronnie Williams, the group's media facilitator, said he appreciated each person who turned out, but he hopes to see more in the future.

The group plans to make that happen by focusing on outreach, Williams, 25, of Tampa said.

"What our specific demands are, we don't know yet," he said. "We are just trying to make people aware right now."

Then, the focus can be shifted to pinpointing the reasons they are there, he said.

"We all have separate grievances, but ours as a group will be decided on by the general assembly," he said.

Gabrielle Nowick, 21, of Tampa came to the event seeking social justice. She has a job, is a student at Hillsborough Community College and has no debt. But she wanted to show other protesters that while she may not share their problems, she shares their passion.

"Everybody here isn't out of a job or in debt," Nowick said. "I look around and see it isn't fair for everyone."

Occupy fever spreads in bay as St. Petersburg joins Tampa in protests 10/15/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 7, 2011 5:47pm]

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