TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The few hundred protesters gathered under wet skies in a park about a half-mile from the GOP convention on Sunday said an impending hurricane that is supposed to dump even heavier rains on Tampa won't stop them from trying to get out their message that America's middle class is in trouble and needs to be restored.
Giant blocks of ice spelling out the words "middle class" were melting on a warm, sticky, rainy day. Occupy protesters it represents the melting away of the middle class.
That message rings true for 52-year-old Tom Gaurapp and Cheryl Landecker from Freeport, Ill. Both worked for Sensata Technologies, owned by Bain Capital, in the city of some 25,000 people. They say 170 jobs there, including their own, were outsourced to China. Occupy protesters are often made up of younger people who generally believe the financial system is stacked against the majority. But in Tampa, many older people joined the marchers.
They included Gaurapp and Landecker, who said that just a few years ago, they never would have considered joining such a protest.
"But then again, we wouldn't have dreamed our jobs would have gone to China," Gaurapp said.
For months, protesters were gearing up for scores of people to converge on Tampa the day before the convention began to showcase their laundry list of beefs and key messages. The groups included organized labor and Occupy Wall Street.
Neither protesters nor the GOP, however, could foresee Tropical Storm Isaac, which is expected to become a dangerous Category 2 hurricane by the time it makes land over the northern Gulf Coast sometime late Tuesday or early Wednesday. Tampa is expected to feel the brunt of the storm with winds, rain and maybe some flooding on Monday. The forecast caused Republicans to postpone their convention activities on Monday's opening day and not that many delegates seemed to be around Sunday to see the protesters.
Demonstrations stayed small. In fact, one against the Republican kickoff party in nearby St. Petersburg seemed to include more police than the 100 or so protesters.
Though jobs and uneven distribution of wealth were strong messages, marchers didn't seem to have a universal message.
Some came to oppose just Mitt Romney, who officially will become the Republican nominee for president on Thursday. Others didn't seem to care for Romney or President Barack Obama.
About 30 people, many with dogs, held a rally against Romney, who infamously strapped his dog in a crate to the top of his car on a family vacation years ago.
"If somebody is going to treat their animal inhumanely, how are they going to treat our country?" said Kim Swygert, 37, a law student from Tampa, who came with her Great Dane.
"He strapped his dog to the top of the car because he crapped, excuse my French," she said.
Several carried anti-Romney signs including one that read, "Don't roof rack me, bro."
The weather didn't deter 52 year-old Donald Butner. He says he's been sleeping at the Occupy camp in Tampa for a few months and that "we're here, baby, rain or shine. The weather is going to do what it is going to do."
Many protesters chanted "we are the 99 percent" and carried homemade signs. The 99 percent refers to the group's message that most don't share in the wealth of America.
The 54-year-old Landecker spoke to the group as rain started falling.
"These businesses have put corporate greed over everything else. If they can do it to us, they can do it to anybody," Landecker said.
Though protesters vow to stay put, if the weather threatens their safety or that of visitors on the streets, police officers will use public address systems and go person-to-person to warn them to leave, said Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor.
"As it is right now, there will be high winds and there will be rain but it's not going to be something that is going to prohibit anyone from doing what they want to do out on the streets," Castor said. "If it changes ... and it becomes an issue of public safety, we will order people into shelters."
About 50 people, from Occupy Wall Street and Code Pink groups, marched from the park about two blocks to the Tampa theater where the Faith and Freedom Coalition was holding an event. The protesters waved signs in front of people waiting to get into the theater, and seven of them lay down in front of the entrance. Other protesters covered them in a red cloth.
They were on the ground for about five minutes. When police asked them to move, they did, and then marched back to the park.
Code Pink is a women-focused group pushing to end the U.S.-led wars abroad. They held signs including, "Vagina. If you can't say it, don't legislate it," and "GOP, respect women."
"I'm completely opposed to the Ralph Reed agenda of the war on women," said Rae Abileah, 29, of San Francisco. Reed started the Faith and Freedom Coalition, which among other causes is against abortion.
At least one arrest was made. A man that police said had a machete strapped to his leg was subdued after he resisted officers, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.
Associated Press writers Brendan Farrington and Peter Prengaman contributed to this report.
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