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Occupy Tampa protestors establishing new home base

Members of Occupy Tampa, from left, Michael Fernandez, Ben McNulty and Michael Freincle pitch a tent at Voice of Freedom Park, a small parcel on W Main Street owned by Joe Redner. The group is moving from Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park to avoid dealing with police.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Members of Occupy Tampa, from left, Michael Fernandez, Ben McNulty and Michael Freincle pitch a tent at Voice of Freedom Park, a small parcel on W Main Street owned by Joe Redner. The group is moving from Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park to avoid dealing with police.

TAMPA — Less than three months after they began their all-day stints in downtown's Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, Occupy Tampa protesters are picking up stakes and heading for West Tampa land owned by strip club king Joe Redner.

Though they will keep a presence near Curtis Hixon, the protesters are moving their tents and "general assembly" rallies to Voice of Freedom Park, a small parcel Redner owns at 2101 W Main St.

Their reason: They don't want to keep dealing with Tampa police.

Officers have made 66 arrests, mostly for trespassing in a public park after hours, against protesters since Oct. 21, according to the police department.

"It's a losing battle," said protester Becky Rubright, as she helped set up the first tent at the West Tampa park on Thursday. "We can't just keep getting people arrested for trespassing."

Asked about the move, Tampa police spokeswoman Andrea Davis said, "We are all for people exercising their First Amendment rights, no matter the location, as long as it is within the guidelines of the law."

Redner said Kelly Benjamin, a neighborhood activist who ran for City Council this year, asked him about letting Occupy Tampa use the land. Redner said sure.

"I think what they're doing is beneficial," said Redner, who said he has not participated in Occupy Tampa activities. "We need to wake up in this country. All our legislators are bought and paid for by special interests."

He has bought the protesters a portable toilet and said it's up to them to keep his property clean.

"As long as they respect the park and don't cause problems to the neighborhood, I'm okay with it," he said.

On Occupy Tampa's Facebook page, organizers say they will soon be "establishing kitchen and medical structures" at the West Tampa property.

They ask donors for folding tables, plastic bins, portable camp ovens, tarps and arts and crafts supplies.

The land is situated near the heart of West Tampa's business district. Occupy Tampa members recently hosted a weekend potluck dinner to introduce themselves to their new neighbors. On Thursday, they were handing out T-shirts to passers-by.

They also distributed fliers about the movement saying their basic message "is that Wall Street is oozing corruption and criminality" and that the "1 percent live off us — the 99 percent!"

Reach Jodie Tillman at jtillman@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3374.

Occupy Tampa protestors establishing new home base 12/29/11 [Last modified: Thursday, December 29, 2011 9:58pm]
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