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Occupy Tampa Activist At RNC Says Bigger Protests May Be Looming

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Occupy Tampa
Occupy Tampa

TAMPA, Fla. -- As a fierce rain began to fall on Occupy Tampa's small encampment, Andrew Speirs, 22, took shelter in the food tent.

On a table was a trio of eggplants and some old melon. All that protected him was a thin, pale green tarp held up by thin poles and twine, but he seemed unfazed by the pounding rain. Speirs, who is used to braving the elements, said he'd been traveling to various Occupy camps for nearly a year. He and his friends called their tour "Occupy All Streets."

Speirs pulled down the black and white handkerchief obscuring his face to talk about his travels. He started at Occupy Dallas. He said he has gone to visit or camp at Occupy Tallahassee, Occupy Tampa, Occupy Asheville, Occupy Charlotte (but it was closed down), Occupy Philly (shut down as well), Occupy D.C., Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Chicago, Occupy L.A., Occupy San Francisco, Occupy Oakland, Occupy Houston, Occupy Austin, Occupy Ft. Worth, Occupy Denton.

"I've learned that our government and the people that live in this country have completely abandoned an entire class people," Speirs said. He includes veterans, the homeless, and housing project residents in that class.

He'd only become aware of the "evils and crimes of our government and corporations" a year and a half ago, said Speirs.

Occupy came at the right time. "I was able to find like-minded people and actually find out that I'm not alone in the world," he said.

Nearby, a small group took shelter underneath the media tent. A shirtless man soaped up his torso and arms and rinsed off in the downpour. There were maybe 15 people at the Occupy Tampa site. Speirs insisted that Thursday might be their strongest show of force against the RNC. "I do believe tomorrow's going to be the biggest day," he said.

Before Occupy, jobs were hard to come by for Speirs, especially full-time work. His stepmother worked in hotel sales and marketing. His father built hotels and condos. Both lost their jobs in the recession. His father sometimes took maintenance work, but it didn't save their Middletown, N.Y., home from foreclosure. "It's caused a lot of tensions in our family," Speirs said.

"I'm surviving. I dumpster-dive for food. I will sleep on the sidewalk. I have a tent. I have many good friends that will give me places to stay and will help me out with food if need be."

Speirs had been living at the site off and on for a month helping activists gear up for the convention and teaching them how to respond to the police. In Chicago, he'd seen cops be peaceful one day and violent the next. "All confrontations with the police so far have ended peacefully," he said of the convention protests. "But I don't expect the previous days to tell us what the next days are going to be like."

It's a sentiment that's become his life's philosophy. After the RNC, several Occupy activists he knows will be heading to Charlotte to participate in the protests against President Barack Obama and the Democrats. There are also plans to hit New York City to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Occupy in mid-September. Speirs isn't sure what's next.

"I don't know," he said. "I don't really try to plan anything out because plans never go the way that you want them to."

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