Occupy protest comes to Brooksville

BROOKSVILLE

Gary Vanderveen saw no need to sleep on the Hernando County courthouse lawn Thursday night. The 67-year-old retired burglar alarm installer didn't bring a tent, portable stove or any other provisions beyond two packs of Doral cigarettes and a protest sign to Thursday's Occupy Brooksville rally.

Unlike participants in similar protests around the country, he didn't have to worry about tear gas or rubber bullets or plastic handcuffs. When the pain in his back from standing became unbearable, he would head home to his wife, Diana, a server at a Spring Hill diner.

None of the other 40 or so people who showed up at the rally had any plans to camp, either. They didn't have to, Vanderveen says.

"It's showing support to the ones who are spending nights in the major cities, the corporate greed hubs, and Washington, where the lobbyists are," Vanderveen said as he stood at the corner of Main and Jefferson streets, the midday sun beating down on his balding pate.

He'd grabbed another sign he liked better than the one he brought: WE'RE PAYING POLITICIANS TO WORK FOR BUSINESS.

Go ahead and call it Occupy Lite. Ray Stanbro doesn't care. The 73-year-old former advertising executive and his wife, Karen, helped organize the effort to bring demonstrators to downtown Brooksville.

Their request: Grab a sign and be visible to traffic rushing by on the two one-way thoroughfares that flank the courthouse. Show support, in your own way, for the 2-month-old Occupy Wall Street movement that started as a protest against corporate greed and has since spread worldwide. Stay for 10 minutes or stay for four hours.

"Some people came for their lunch hours," Ray Stanbro said.

The Stanbros, who live just north of the Hernando-Citrus line, near Istachatta, made a good living in the capitalist system and aren't calling for it to be replaced with socialism. But many Americans are seething about political and economic systems that are clearly broken, and that anger transcends generation, socioeconomic status and political party, the Stanbros say, so they have a responsibility to step up to show that the demand for reform goes beyond the fringe.

Thursday marked their first rally and included demonstrators from Occupy Hernando, a separate group that has staged Saturday rallies along U.S. 19 in Spring Hill in recent weeks.

Ray Stanbro met with Brooksville police officials early in the week to notify them of the rally. The authorities only asked that the protestors avoid blocking entrances to the courthouse and businesses and not to use a bullhorn.

Most of the feedback from motorists came in the form of supportive honks and thumbs pointed skyward. A few flung middle fingers. At least one couple yelled, "Get a job."

Most of these demonstrators, though, had already worked most of their lives. They're retirees, reflecting Hernando's demographic.

"It saddens me to see so few people here and to have 99 percent of the people going by, being victims of this economy and not even realizing it," said Pat Saisi, a 65-year-old former college instructor from Spring Hill.

Her 7-year-old Yorkie, Grasshopper, sat at her feet with her own sign pinned to her collar: TAX THE BIG DOGS.

"I feel like I'm shouting into a hurricane," Saisi said. "But if I can make a difference with even one person that comes to realize how they're being manipulated … ."

Patti Cloud knows. The paralegal in her "mid 40s" sat on a nearby bench on her lunch hour, an e-reader in her lap. The lifelong Republican said she agreed with the some of the main tenets of the Occupy Brooksville group: Overhaul campaign finance laws to release special interests' grip on government; tighten regulations on the big banks; close tax loopholes on corporations.

"The government just doesn't seem to give a crap about us anymore," Cloud said.

Asked if she would ever grab a sign and join the rally, she thought for a moment as her gaze shifted to the protestors on the other side of Broad Street.

"I might, depending on how much worse this gets," she said.

By 2:30 p.m., the demonstrators' ranks had thinned to a dozen or so, and Grasshopper was sprawled and panting on the concrete.

"She's an old dog," Saisi said.

"We're all old dogs," said Maureen Scully, Saisi's 65-year-old neighbor who encouraged her to come, and the women laughed.

By the time the clock at the nearby Methodist church struck 4, 29-year-old Ronnie Connell was one of the last demonstrators standing.

A maintenance worker for a Brooksville golf community, Connell heard about the rally from his father, a mechanic for Hernando County government who wanted to come but had to work. When Connell was sent home because of Thursday morning's thunderstorms, he rushed home to Nobleton, made a sign and arrived by 1:30, still in his work uniform.

He happened to have a Guy Fawkes mask — the smiling, mustachioed visage of the British anarchist who has become a symbol of the movement — from a couple of Halloweens back and hung it around his neck.

He had attached a noose to his sign that said: PUT A LOOP AROUND TAX LOOPHOLES … BUSH TAX CUTS 4 GREEDY KILLING OUR COUNTRY.

The Occupy organizers plan future demonstrators, and Connell said he would be back.

"I just hope it wakes people up and gets more voters out there," Connell said.

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or tmarrero@sptimes.com.

>>if you go

Scheduled to do it again

The next Occupy Hernando demonstration is set for 10 a.m. Saturday at U.S. 19 and State Road 50 in Weeki Wachee.

Occupy protest comes to Brooksville 11/17/11 [Last modified: Thursday, November 17, 2011 7:57pm]

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