The protest was scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. in Lykes Gaslight Park, but there was nary a protester in sight. Then a few moments later, dozens of protesters — carrying signs that read "Don't Spy on Me, Bro," "Snowden is a Hero, Obama is a Traitor," "NSA-WTF?" — began marching through the park and then zigzagged through a mostly barren downtown before descending on the federal courthouse on Florida Avenue.
During the past few weeks, activists planned the event through Reddit. Susie Shannon, who was active during the Occupy Tampa protests, called it the broadest coalition of activists that she's worked with, many with a strong libertarian bent.
The Tampa protest was one of dozens planned in the U.S. by the group Restore The Fourth. A leader of that organization, Amy Wilmesher, said earlier this week that the rallies were scheduled for the Fourth of July because "we stand for the same values that the founders of the U.S. fought for and gained independence."
Donna Smith from Hudson said most Americans knew there was surveillance going on by agencies like the NSA, FBI and CIA, but the heavy realization came after Edward Snowden's revelations in The Guardian and Washington Post interviews. "For so many of us, it was hard to believe. It was the first real proof that we had that we could look at in disbelief."
Smith said she was a liberal who voted twice for Barack Obama, but she's deeply disappointed to learn that the spying has only intensified from what initially began after 9/11 under the Bush/Cheney team. "It was one thing for Bush or for someone who is more conservative to do something like this. But for Obama to do it, it's ridiculous. He made so many promises, and I know they all do, but being the fact that this was something he ran on twice, that's what makes it so wrong."
Katherine from Riverview said that she is also upset with the president. "I am getting quite disillusioned with him, especially the drones," she told CL while marching with the crowd. "The more we know, the better off the public is. I think we need to be informed. I think it's the big money people that are in this country. The big corporations, the big contractors, it's the money, it's not the people."
Part of the journey through downtown Tampa led the protestors to march across the street from Verizon's headquarters. The Guardian's first stories about NSA surveillance detailed how the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court directed Verizon Business Network Services — the division of Verizon that primarily handles corporate telephone networks — to provide the government with phone records for three months, ending July 19.
Carl Haley from Clearwater held a sign that read "NSA- WTF?" He expressed disappointment that more Americans aren't outraged about the surveillance. "I've been hearing more about Paula Deen in the news than Edward Snowden, so I think that's a problem."
Although the New York Times and USA Today broke stories about warrantless surveillance by the NSA back in the mid-aughts, activist Susie Shannon said the context with the latest reports is what's new to people. "The idea that citizens the world over are having their data mined is really shocking. And other countries are responding as well. It seems a little crazy for us, who are supposed to be responsible for what happens in this country, to sit back and allow this to happen without any response when the world is really demanding something better."