Protesters rally for middle class, women's rights in Tampa before RNC

At Lykes Gaslight Park in Tampa, Jessica Muniz of Washington, center, calls for a hike in the minimum wage at a rally organized by the Service Employees International Union on Sunday. CAROLINA HIDALGO   |   Times
At Lykes Gaslight Park in Tampa, Jessica Muniz of Washington, center, calls for a hike in the minimum wage at a rally organized by the Service Employees International Union on Sunday.CAROLINA HIDALGO | Times
Published August 26 2012
Updated August 27 2012

TAMPA — Police patrolled on horseback, bicycle and foot. An ice sculpture formed the words "Middle Class." Some folks were dressed in suits depicting a female body part. Dogs described as Democrats by their owners sniffed suspiciously at reporters.

Protest Nation descended Sunday on Tampa and gave free speech a vigorous workout.

The city survived.

The first significant day of protests for the Republican National Convention produced few serious problems under threatening skies and the watchful gaze of hundreds of law enforcement officers.

Tropical Storm Isaac may have helped dampen crowds and tempers as much as the overwhelming police presence.

Earlier in the day, up to 300 protesters marched from Lykes Gaslight Park to the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Some protesters played drums as the crowd chanted, "We are the 99 percent."

Dmitry Marin was among the protesters. He touted a 6-foot silver spoon with Mitt Romney's name on it.

"We are here to express our disagreement," Marin said. "We believe in … an economy that serves all, not just a few."

Later Sunday, members of the San Francisco women's rights group Code Pink stood outside a GOP event at the Tampa Theater dressed in full-body vagina costumes.

They were protesting the Republican stance on abortion and universal health care.

"We are in opposition to the right-wing agenda that wages war on women's bodies," said organizer and Code Pink co-founder Rae Abileah, 29.

Inside the event organized by the Faith & Freedom Coalition, Newt Gingrich and Pam Bondi said the country was headed in the wrong direction.

Unbeknownst to organizers, protesters infiltrated the event.

Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, accused by Democrats of being a union buster, took the stage. A handful of protesters in the audience stood and repeatedly yelled, "Walker hates workers!"

Republicans answered with cries of "USA, USA!"

Police herded the hecklers, representing Occupy Tampa and Occupy Chicago, out a back door and issued trespass warnings.

Back at Lykes Gaslight Park, man's best friend figured in the political theater.

A group called Dogs Against Romney held a protest attended by fewer than two dozen people. They wanted to draw attention to a 1983 Romney family vacation when he put the family's Irish setter, Seamus, in a crate on top of the family station wagon for a 12-hour drive.

Protesters told reporters that any man who could put a dog in a crate latched atop a car doesn't deserve to be president. How the 10 dogs brought to the protest felt was harder to judge.

Some dogs wistfully eyed eight horses and their mounted officers at the other end of the park.

Kim Swygert of Tampa brought her 11-month-old Great Dane, Dora, to the event.

"Dora rides inside, baby," Swygert said. "She's not luggage. She's my baby."

One onlooker, Barbara Seidenberg of Orlando, stewed. She later said she couldn't stand the hypocrisy.

Hadn't Obama said in his book Dreams from My Father that he had tasted dog meat as a boy living in Indonesia?

"Obama … ate dogs," Seidenberg yelled out to the group. "What Mitt Romney did, his dog liked. And it was safe."

"I don't have time for stupid people," Swygert said.

Nobody mentioned that Obama also had acknowledged tasting snake meat and roasted grasshopper in Indonesia.

Perhaps that is a debate for another day.

Times staff writers Elizabeth Behrman, Laura C. Morel and Leonora LaPeter Anton contributed to this report.