Occupy Tampa Occupies Working-Class West Tampa

Exiled on Main Street
TAMPA (2012-1-4) -

While many of the Occupy Wall Street protestors nationwide have retreated from their tent cities due to police pressure or the cold, the protest continues in Tampa. We take a look at the new, less-upscale location for Occupy Tampa.

The new year has brought new changes for Occupy Tampa. They've moved away from their encampment next to the tony high-rises of downtown, and are now largely in the decidedly more working-class environs of West Tampa. There, in a postage-stamp-size park owned by strip club magnate Joe Redner, more than a dozen tents have popped up.

Behind signs proclaiming this patch the "Voice of Freedom Park," acupuncturist Becky Rubright camps out in the bitter weather. She says the move from downtown's Curtis Hixon Park has reinvigorated the movement.

"I think that being in this community is only going to benefit us enormously, because we're not in a community where you have to convince people, unlike the residents of SkyPoint," says Rubright. "They don't really understand that they're part of a system that might be working for them right now, but isn't working for a lot of their fellow citizens, and you don't need to convince anyone of that here. They understand our message very quickly.

There's plenty of cheap places to eat - a nearby cafe advertises a full breakfast for under three bucks. Several nights a week a West Tampa man pulls up his barbecue smoker and feeds the group. And they're planning to take part in the community's Martin Luther King Junior Day parade.

They've got a lot of company here. Just across Main Street, an empty parking lot is filled with several locals sitting in chairs, needling passersby. Some - who didn't want to be identified - had their own opinion of their new neighbors.

"To each their own, you know, people's got their right to freedom, and to do what they want to do. I bet if it were a whole lot of us blacks, we'd have been run out of there. But other than that - hey, it's cool," she says.

Another local resident has his own opinion of the Occupy people.

"Yeah, I know why they're there, they're for making the rich rich and the poor poor," he says. "They're protesting. And since they're protesting against that, I feel like they can sit there as long as they want. They're cool, they ain't bothering nobody, and I still sit in the park with them and drink."

Back across Main Street, Pepe Kovanis is busy brewing hot coffee in a tent covered with blue tarps to keep out the chill. He says they aren't getting harassed as much as they did in the public park downtown.They built a bonfire the other night, and that was they're only run-in with the police.

"We're not being hassled at all here," he says. "I mean, besides the fire issue, but other than that, absolutely nothing."

Kovanis too believes the move here is giving the local Occupy movement a shot in the arm.

"I think the community here wants us to be here. They want to be a part of it. They want to be in, they want it to grow. They want to share. They want to help us," says Kovanis. "Versus the crowd in downtown, I think they were indifferent. They understood we had a right to be there - they just didn't want us there."

He expects several more tents to be pitched once the weather warms up. And that's just a warm-up to the upcoming Republican National Convention, where Tampa will be the focus of just about every protest group from across the nation.

"I'd like to see 50,000, maybe 100,000 protestors coming down," he says.

And when asked where they'll all go, he says: "Curtis Hixon. We're moving back."

So it looks like the downtown crowd is getting only a temporary reprieve from a protest that shows no signs of slowing down.

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