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Thursday, Aug 16, 2018
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At second St. Petersburg Women’s March, 5,000 focus on "what we can do"

ST. PETERSBURG

Near Mirror Lake, as protesters posed for pictures, hung signs on their dogs and distributed chant scripts just after noon Sunday, Linda Pair and her friend Beth Gavin arrived to march.

Asked why she came out, Pair, 72, of Largo put it bluntly:

"We’ve got to get rid of him."

Pair was referring to President Donald Trump, whose election — over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and after Trump was accused of unwanted sexual contact by more than a dozen women — triggered plans to protest on the day after his inauguration.

The 2017 Women’s March was the largest protest in St. Petersburg history, and marches across the country created the largest single-day protest in the history of the United States. Organizers said they were protesting gender violence, police brutality, LGBTQ discrimination, limits to birth control and more.

A year later, people like Pair and Gavin joined the Women’s March again, joined by some 5,000, police estimated, many of whom were much younger.

As the crowd walked down Central Avenue, two 11-year-olds stood on the corner of Sixth Street. The friends, Hazel Flanigan of St. Petersburg and Morgan Myers of Treasure Island, held up a sign reading, "Build kindness, not walls," as their mothers sat nearby. It’s the first time the two have been to a political protest.

They were inspired by "all the things that Trump has been saying about women especially," Flanigan said, as marchers chanted, "Out! Out! Vote them out!"

Myers liked the unity she saw in the crowd. "Just everyone supporting everyone," she said.

The march, a little longer than half a mile, delivered protesters to Williams Park, where they sat on blankets or folding chairs or walked from pop-up tent to pop-up tent.

Whether worn or carried, any item presented an opportunity to make a statement. Some donned plain pink T-shirts or polos. Others draped rainbow flags over their back. Slogans covered buttons and decorated baseball caps. Ribbons adorned ponytails and pets’ tails alike. "Girl Power" was written in purple chalk on the sidewalk.

Most of the event was upbeat, as phone cameras captured funny signs and songs such as Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger played between speeches.

But some parts of the rally were more sober. At one tent, representatives from the St. Pete Women’s Collective offered blank posters where sexual assault survivors could write the name of their abuser. The Williams, Shawns, Mikes and others quickly added up to more than 100 names filling the paper.

At other tents, left-leaning political groups collected signatures, and vendors sold T-shirts.

Organizers stressed the importance of the 2018 elections, and volunteers registered voters as Democratic politicians took the stage.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman told the crowd, "We’re going to see the Women’s March become the women’s tidal wave."

In one of the rally’s most raucous moments, demonstrators clapped and cheered as Pinellas County School Board Chairwoman Rene Flowers passionately called for funding education, rebuilding Puerto Rico and supporting Haitians in Florida who have seen their protected status revoked. She lauded St. Petersburg’s majority-female City Council and told women in the crowd to fight for the change they seek.

"You show up to vote. You fill the halls. You stand strong, you stand firm and you stand tall," Flowers said.

That’s the takeaway for 43-year-old Ayana Flowers of St. Petersburg, who held a sign reading, "Grab em by the polls!"

Her mother, B.J., said of the event, "It’s just incredible. And we’re voting."

Val Palla, 63, of Treasure Island, at the rally with her wife and a friend, went to the 2017 march and said she can’t believe they still have to do this.

This time, there were fewer people in attendance. But, she thought, those who did come out again were just as spirited. "There’s no lack of energy. There’s no lack of motivation."

Late in the afternoon, a group of six young Tampa friends and sisters chatted in the grass. They included Maliyah Burden, 17, who came because "it’s important to protect and support the rights of everybody," and Madison Kazar, 22, who at one point during the march looked down at her arms and saw goose bumps.

Her friend Emilie Sukijbumrung , 21, said there was a different tone at the 2017 march.

The group agreed: Last year, there was more of a fear for the future. Now, they’re noticing more of the vendors and political organizers, and people are looking forward.

"It’s a lot more of what we can do," said Kayla Rodriguez, 24.

There were no arrests or other incidents at the event, said St. Petersburg Police Department spokeswoman Sandra Bentil.

Contact Langston Taylor at [email protected] or 727-893-8659. Follow @langstonitaylor.

GABRIELLA ANGOTTI-JONES | Times

Daniel Evangelista, 17, dressed as a rooster, Knox Johnson, 16, dressed as Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, Rachel Rowland, dressed as a panda, and Luke Evangelista, 15, dressed as Captain America, laugh and joke around before completing "The Big Hug" near Tropicana Field on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018 in St. Petersburg, Florida. The Big Hug, an event organized by a group of kids from the Tampa Bay area, is a worldwide attempt to to break the record for largest group hug in St. Petersburg. The group joined simultaneous hugs from around the country, and held the hug for 10 seconds. A worldwide hug also occurred, where people from Europe, Africa, and Canada participated. The group attempted to set the record for most amount of people hugging in the state of Florida as well.

 
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