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Tuesday, Sep 19, 2017
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RNC demonstrators turn creative for attention

TAMPA - Though there aren't nearly as many protesters rallying at the Republican National Convention as first thought, downtown still is filled with flag-waving, banner-toting and sign-waving malcontents, each trying to catch the attention of passers-by and the media. It helps to be different, the groups have noticed. The West Central Florida Federation of Labor took a shot at an alternative way to get its message across. On Wednesday evening, during its march through downtown, the labor union staged different street theater events along the parade route. It varied from the typical labor march, said Ann Vanek-Dasovich, spokeswoman for the AFL-CIO, which helped stage the march.
"We had several meetings to plan out what we were going to do," she said, and the idea of presenting skits along the way "organically grew." On the march, no one was watching, though, as about 200 union members paraded through eastern downtown. The skits were performed pretty much for their own amusement – and that of the media who were there to record it. The first skit included someone wearing a grinning Mitt Romney mask throwing fake money away as a union member complained about the disparity in tax rates for union workers and the 1 percent. Throughout the week, other protesters have mounted unusual campaigns to capture the limelight. Official Street Preachers took no prisoners when they captured the corner of Franklin and Jackson streets this week. As the preacher gave his sermon on the evils of homosexuality, war, women, political candidates, Mormons, men with long hair and big mouths, a crowd grew, as did the number of journalists. Marching down a downtown street is one thing, but plopping down in one of the busiest intersections in the city is another. Dozens of protesters sat down on Tampa Street at the corner of Kennedy Boulevard earlier this week and numerous media outlets were there to capture the scene. Police, in "turtle suits" of face shields, elbow and knee guards and protective vests, lined up along the sit-in, like a couple of rugby teams. Cool heads prevailed, though, as images of the scene were posted in the YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook universes before the scene was cleared. Vermin Supreme got his share of limelight. The older gent got attention by wearing a big rubber boot on his head. If a camera clicked nearby, he mugged. "My love for this country knows no end," he said after posing for a photo. He was at the periphery of the Kennedy Boulevard/Tampa Street confrontation and someone clicked a photo of Supreme and Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee shaking hands. A day later, a proud Gee showed off the photo on his smart phone. In Lykes Gaslight Square, an unidentified man walked beneath the oaks with a large cardboard sign. He wore a white dress shirt and dark dress pants and shoes. He wore a Frank Sinatra hat, with a paper towel roll taped to the back with a small American flag waving in the breeze. "Tampanian Square" was written on the cardboard with a crude drawing of a tank, reminiscent of the 1989 Chinese student revolution in Tiananmen Square. The ensemble was enough to get one television news station to interview him. So, what's the message he's trying deliver? "Drive fuel-efficient vehicles," he said.

kmorelli@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7760

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