Hundreds of protesters rally outside GOP debate at USF

TAMPA — Lining the streets of the University of South Florida before Monday's Republican presidential debate, the crowd thickened with hundreds, bull horns blaring, signs held high.

One read, "Ron Paul not for sale. End the Fed."

Steps away, "Keep the Fed. End Ron Paul."

One sign, "Throw 'em all out!"

Across the street, dozens, supporting the Dream Act.

Mayra Hidalgo, 20, stood among them, with a group called We Are Florida! She calls herself a Dreamer, an undocumented college student in support of reforms to help her pay for school and get hired after graduation. She wants to be an immigration lawyer.

She said she wants to see an end to anti-immigration rhetoric.

"Latinos are listening very closely to what is being said. We're holding candidates accountable," she said.

As they chanted, "Yes, we can," a group of anti-President Barack Obama, pro-Israel demonstrators called on Republican candidates to recognize Israel as Obama's "Achilles' heel."

"Florida made Obama president," said longtime activist Bob Kunst. "He's betrayed us ever since."

Across campus, a coalition of union leaders, student activists, anti-war demonstrators and members of the Occupy movement made its public debut with a march that drew hundreds of enthusiastic protesters, some with enlarged copies of dollar bills taped across their mouths.

"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know who's responsible for the majority of attacks on the people in this state and in this country," Fight Back Florida statewide organizer Tyler Crawford told the crowd during a rally before the march. "They're going to be right here on campus today. Now, are we going to take that?"

"No!" the crowd shouted, and the full-throated protest went from there.

"Bankers got bailed out and we got sold out," said the Rev. Charles McKenzie of the Rainbow Push Coalition. "We are the 99 percent, and we are saying to the Republicans here tonight, 'No more business as usual.' "

After a half-dozen more speeches — on jobs, affordable education, attacks on immigrants and foreign policy — the group marched to the site of the debate, where they stood chanting behind a line of barricades as the audience filed in for the event:

"They say cut back. / We say fight back."

"Show me what democracy looks like. / This is what democracy looks like."

"Hey, hey, what do you say? / No RNC in Tampa Bay."

"We are the 99 percent."

"And so are you," a young woman with a soft voice called to USF police officers on the other side of the barricades.

Organizers said union members, student demonstrators and others came from Orlando, Gainesville, St. Petersburg and Tampa for the march. The same group — calling itself the Coalition To March on the RNC — is organizing what it hopes will be a much bigger march for Aug. 27, the first day of the Republican National Convention in Tampa. So far, it has pledges of support from protest groups from Florida to Texas, Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Utah.

One smaller group drew lots of attention — three women in wigs and glasses, calling themselves Women of Florida for Newt. Their tongue-in-cheek sign, a quote they attribute to the candidate: "Do as I say, not as I do."

Hundreds of protesters rally outside GOP debate at USF 01/23/12 [Last modified: Monday, January 23, 2012 10:36pm]

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