Sporting a bandana and aviator sunglasses, greeting fellow protesters with a peace sign, David Gonzalez of Brandon resembled a refugee from the 1960s.
In fact, said Gonzalez, not much has changed politically over the past 40 years.
"Just like back then," Gonzalez said. "There are people today who are being denied the basic right to vote. It's wrong and it has to stop."
Gonzalez was among hundreds of protesters who gathered in Centennial Park in Ybor City Aug. 28 to rally against efforts by the Tea Party and other right-wing groups to purge 180,000 registered voters from state voting lists on the basis that they are ineligible to vote because they are ex-felons or noncitizens.
The opposition claims the purge is an attempt to suppress likely Democrats, including blacks and Latinos, from voting in this battleground state where a few hundred votes could spell victory.
The protest march from Centennial Park to the Republican National Convention at the St. Pete Time Forum was organized by activist groups including Presente.org., Color of Change, the Florida Consumer Action Network and the DRM Capitol Group.
But the diverse group of protesters, ranging from teens to senior citizens, didn't limit themselves to the voting issue. They brandished posters bashing Mitt Romney's economic plan, urging environmental reforms and advocating for workers' rights.
Scattered among the protesters were some members of the controversial Anonymous group wearing their signature Guy Fawkes masks. In a series of YouTube videos, the global hackers group has vowed to disrupt this week's RNC.
However, a conspicuous contingent of Tampa police and sheriff's deputies brandishing riot gear were on hand to ensure that the protest didn't get out of hand.
"We expected a big police presence. We're recognized as troublemakers. But we're really just regular citizens who care about the issues going on in our country," said Gonzalez, who works at a car dealership when he isn't participating in protests. "We're not looking for trouble. We just want to do the right thing and stand up for what we believe."
Camilla Shoosmith of St. Petersburg admitted it was curiosity that drew her to the protest march Tuesday night. Her sign read, "Question Everything."
"I'm trying to get more involved in the issues facing our country," she said.
By contrast, John and Anne McGrath of Westchase are veteran protesters. Now retired, the couple worked to ensure that disenfranchised residents were able to register to vote in the 1960s.
"We've come here today to make a stand on this voting issue," said Anne McGrath. "We're seeing so many things we worked so hard to change in the '60s being challenged today."
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