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On bus from Pinellas
to capital, 'We're all as one'

[Times photo: Pam Royal]
A seated Gail McAfee of Lakeland prays with fellow protesters on the front lawn of the Old Capitol in Tallahassee on Tuesday. 

legislature 2000
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© St. Petersburg Times, published March 8, 2000

Headed for the asphalt hills of the state capital, friends and strangers gathered in a sandy parking lot of a St. Petersburg church Tuesday long before dawn would crack.

Even at 3:30 a.m., Kris Self was beaming, especially when she saw Mary Alice Saunders. "Here's my favorite rabble-rouser," Self blurted, stopping short of giving Saunders a high-five.

Self was spunky enough to show off the group's "We Support Affirmative Action" banner.

This was the day that 50 people -- black and white, age 8 to 88 -- from Pinellas County got on a bus bound for Tallahassee to make history.

"We came to express our rights as black people," said Albert Baldwin, 19, of Largo.

Some marchers doubted they could make immediate changes because the legislators have made up their minds, said Bob Shirer, acting chairman of the Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee.

But "we're giving them an indication of what the citizens care about," Shirer said. "This has united the coalition in a very dramatic way."

The African American Voter Research and Education Committee sponsored this trip to the March on Tallahassee, a protest against Gov. Jeb Bush's One Florida initiative, which has revised the state's affirmative action policies for admissions to state universities and for government contracts.

Several longtime activists were on board, including Vyrle Davis, Perkins Shelton, Adelle Vaughn Jemison, and current and former St. Petersburg City Council members Frank Peterman and Ernest Fillyau.

With two pink rollers in the front of her hair, Janice Walton was getting exactly what she wanted by riding on the bus. The 36-year-old single mother of three who attends St. Petersburg Junior College only recently has gotten involved with the organization that sponsored the bus trip.

"I missed out on a lot," she said. This was her chance to try to recoup.

"If you look around the bus, it's really a beautiful sight to see," said Walton, referring to the group's diverse makeup. "Nobody's angry. We're all as one."

Walton's excitement about her participation in the march rubbed off on her kids, who spent the past few days marching on the porch. "Bush is going to have a headache, all these people going to the march," Walton said they told her.

After a buffet breakfast at Shoney's restaurant in Lake City, the local marchers reboarded and practiced fight chants and songs, including We Shall Overcome and a revised Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around, substituting the "nobody" with Jeb Bush and Ward Connerly.

They sang and chanted the same words when they joined thousands of other marchers in Tallahassee.

Some donned fraternity shirts and jackets, others were girded with fanny packs, gripped bottled water or leaned on canes as they ascended the hill leading to the Capitol in Tallahassee.

"I was proud to be a part of it," said Cheryl Long, 54, of Largo. She and her 8-year-old grandson, Austin Evans, were among the first to sign up for the trip. He pitched the idea to tag along with his grandmother. At the end of the rally, Austin was back on the bus playing with his Uno cards. He thought the march was "good."

Long, who is white, said many had underestimated the response for people, especially black people, to attend the protest.

"I think (the turnout) will surprise a lot of people. It's surprised me, too. All these people who voted for Bush are getting exactly what they wanted."

"I enjoy the camaraderie, getting people together," said Shelton, a former director of the St. Petersburg NAACP branch and the oldest marcher on the bus. The 88-year-old can't even count the number of protests he has participated in.

"It shows unity. It shows strength. This is not fun and games. This is serious business," Shelton said.

Now, the post-civil rights generation also knows this is serious, said Davis, 63, a former St. Petersburg High School principal. He was impressed with the turnout of young people.

"Now, they are realizing that this affects them," Davis said.

Peterman said the protest is a signal to those who support Bush's plan.

"We're not going to take anything lying down," Peterman said.

Miami-Dade schoolkids stranded as drivers march

MIAMI -- Thousands of schoolchildren in Miami-Dade County were left stranded Tuesday after hundreds of local school bus drivers, far more than expected, used personal days to attend a protest march in Tallahassee.

School officials said 573 drivers did not show up for work Tuesday morning, a lot of them telling supervisors they were taking the day off to join thousands of people at the state capital to protest Gov. Jeb Bush's plan to eliminate racial and gender preferences in university admissions and state contracting.

The county school system was left 333 drivers short, and thousands of students across Miami-Dade arrived late to school as 240 substitute drivers joined those who reported for work to cover the 300 unstaffed bus routes, said Henry Fraind, deputy school superintendent.

When fully staffed, the school system's fleet has 1,660 bus drivers who transport about 75,000 students each day. Eventually, all the stranded students were picked up, school district officials said.

School transportation officials in several other counties said the number of bus drivers working Tuesday was normal.

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