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Occupy groups in Tampa Bay plan to avoid 'event zone' during RNC

Cecily Griffin, left, and Gregory Priem, center, of Occupy Tampa do a hand signal refresher in Tampa’s Gaslight Park on Saturday as Occupy groups in the bay area gather to discuss protest plans for the GOP convention in August.

CAROLINA HIDALGO | Times

Cecily Griffin, left, and Gregory Priem, center, of Occupy Tampa do a hand signal refresher in Tampa’s Gaslight Park on Saturday as Occupy groups in the bay area gather to discuss protest plans for the GOP convention in August.

TAMPA — When an estimated 15,000 protesters descend upon the Republican National Convention this August, don't expect Occupy Tampa activists to be in the center of things.

They've got other plans.

"We are not actively going to participate in the event zone," said Christopher Kuleci, a member of the group's media team. "There are plenty of other places where delegates are going to be, where our messages will better be heard."

In an attempt to avoid possible mass arrests, the group is working on specific ways of being effective outside the official protest zone, he said.

"It wouldn't do any good for all of us to get thrown in jail," said Kuleci, 34.

Members tossed around alternative protest ideas at the first joint meeting of regional Occupy groups held in Gaslight Park on Saturday. Suggestions included causing traffic jams by driving slowly on area bridges, holding general demonstrations outside venues expected to be frequented by visiting politicians, and performing skits in public areas.

The message they hope to convey varies across the Occupy movement but usually consists of bringing attention to social and economic inequality.

Occupy Tampa also plans to act as host to the many protesters coming to the area. "We are going to provide logistical support," Kuleci said.

The group is working on ways to provide medical care, food and somewhere to sleep, he said. Members also hope to secure a location in Ybor City as an additional home base to their current location in West Tampa.

Though the group's official decision is to stay out of the "event zone," individuals may still decide to join the mass demonstrations, Kuleci said.

Frank Mazuca, 58, of Occupy Lakeland hasn't ruled that out.

"I want to protest and see what I can do to peacefully disrupt things," he said. With no plans set in stone, he said he'll look to Occupy Tampa for examples of what to do during the RNC.

"We (Occupy Lakeland) were planning on piggybacking on Occupy Tampa," he said.

This is the first time Occupy groups from across Tampa Bay have come together to discuss the RNC and other interests, said John Thomas, 39, of Occupy Tampa.

In addition to those from Lakeland, members from Sarasota, St. Petersburg and more attended the event. They plan to hold regional meetings biweekly leading up to the RNC, Thomas said.

Occupy St. Pete has been planning protests of its own during that week.

The group has something in the works for the convention's opening night festivities at Tropicana Field, said Sherry Suttrich, 47, of St. Petersburg. And with many of the state delegates staying in hotels in Pinellas County, Suttrich said the group plans to remain busy.

"There are some plans for nonviolent demonstrations in St. Pete but we haven't nailed anything down yet," she said.

As to whether Suttrich will be entering Tampa's "event zone" during the RNC, probably not.

"I don't know if I want to march down the streets," she said. "Who knows what will happen there."

Shelley Rossetter can be reached at srossetter@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2442.

Occupy groups in Tampa Bay plan to avoid 'event zone' during RNC 06/02/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 5, 2012 1:00pm]
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