Commuters on the Howard Frankland Bridge thought they had endured it all _ world-class traffic jams, creative car wrecks, airplane crashes, years of construction, millions of confused tourists _ but they'd never seen anything like the Lesbian Avengers.
In Tampa this week to protest the torching of gay activist Darlena DeBerry's trailer, the Avengers, along with members of ACT-UP and other groups, weren't content to bang on painted garbage cans outside City Hall, or to wave their protest signs behind the head of Tampa's mayor. To make sure everyone knew they were in town and unhappy, the Avengers targeted long-suffering Howard Frankland commuters.
At 7:30 a.m. Monday, just when rush hour was working up a good head of steam, the Avengers launched a rolling protest, stuffing the bridge's eastbound lanes with a convoy that crept along at 30 miles per hour. Commuters did the only thing they could _ blew their horns, slowed to a crawl and resigned themselves to being late to work one more time.
This slowdown strategy was popularized by French farmers who like to air their gripes by planting their tractors on superhighways and zipping toward Paris at full speed _ about 15 mph. Although the Tampa police rained on the Avengers parade by ticketing three of the lead creepers, we have probably not seen the last of this protest du jour.
We don't have a problem with the protests the group held at Tampa City Hall. By chanting, waving signs and banging on garbage can lids, the group attracted the attention of downtown workers, the media, even the mayor. They exercised their rights of free speech. They made their point.
But did they have to torment the Howard Frankland commuters? Is there a more victimized automotive minority in this community than those drivers, who daily endure every highway hardship imaginable?
The Avengers certainly didn't make any friends for their cause employing the slowdown strategy that stalled these rush hour commuters.
Still, if the Avengers need to raise any money while they are here, they should consider marketing a T-shirt one of the protesters was wearing. The shirt could be a big hit with weary Howard Frankland commuters. It read: "Stop Our Suffering."