TAMPA — It's official: The media were more into the Occupy Tampa movement than the Occupiers themselves.
As Occupy Tampa's one-year anniversary event kicked off Monday afternoon at Lykes Gaslight Square Park, 10 reporters took notes, snapped photos and rolled video as 40-year-old Occupier John Thomas painted "One year, still here" on a cardboard sign.
As Thomas rummaged through his watercolors and talked to the press, the one other punctual protester, who only goes by Crash, rolled sage incense and burned it.
Two people lounged on a nearby bench.
"I'm not an Occupier, I'm just homeless," said Blaine Panek, 42, to a reporter's question.
With 12 protesters at the anniversary rally, it was a far cry from the hundreds who turned out for a similar march a year ago. This past year has been a tough one for Occupy Tampa, which seemed to struggle even for a group defined by its down-and-out members. The protesters, named for their propensity to "occupy" public spaces, have been twice uprooted and largely fallen out of favor with police and the public.
But the celebration gathered a little life as the afternoon wore on. Over several hours, the dozen people made their way to the park, toting signs with slogans like "end corporate rule."
Then they began their march to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, waving American flags and chanting about corrupt politicians and banks. They stopped to wave signs and chant outside Wells Fargo bank and the Tampa Police Department.
"We're just getting started," said Sherry Suttrich, 46, who owns a lawn care business in St. Petersburg. "I think it's a beautiful thing . . . like-minded people getting together. We're making headway, we really are."
The march was mostly peaceful — even celebratory — except when 23-year-old Andrew Speirs wrote a profanity in chalk on the sidewalk in front of the police station. Other protesters murmured in disapproval. But, said 48-year-old Coral MacDonald of Gainesville, the beauty of the Occupy movement is that people have freedom to express their ideas.
Officers surrounded the group in their patrol cars but didn't arrest anyone.
"I don't believe we need the police," Speirs said. "And this is protected speech. They can't legally make me leave."