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Protesters stage last-ditch effort

About 2,000 people, mostly Democrats, rally outside the Capitol to demand that their votes be counted.

[Times photo: John Pendygraft]
In a Wednesday rally in Tallahassee to support Al Gore, supporters chant "Respect."

By DIANE RADO and SHELBY OPPEL

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 7, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- The rowdy crowd grew still as the Rev. Jesse Jackson cut through the acrimonyand partisanship of the last month with a prayer:

"Let us pray for the soul of our nation and to healing," Jackson said. Then, before a sea of Democratic faces, he added: "God bless Gov. Bush from Texas" and Vice President Al Gore.

The words struck an unusual tone of conciliation Wednesday in the capital, where anti-Bush rhetoric was running high.

As the clock ticked down on Gore's chances of winning the presidency, Democrats from around the state came to town to chant, cheer and pray in support of Gore and against a special session of the Legislature that would put Texas Gov. George W. Bush into the White House.

"You should see this beautiful rainbow here today," said U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown of Jacksonville, who looked down from her lectern at the mix of white, black, and Hispanic people filling the courtyard between the old and new capitol buildings.

Police estimated that 1,800 to 2,000 people turned out to hear a slate of speakers that included Jackson, a longtime civil rights leader, National Organization for Women president Patricia Ireland, and labor leaders John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, and Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

On the opposite side of the Old Capitol, about 150 Republicans gathered for their own demonstration, protesting a court case that could throw out thousands of absentee ballots in Seminole County and give the election to Gore.

"Please do not count out my vote," said Francis Oliver, 57, of Sanford, a public school technology specialist who voted by absentee ballot.

What they lacked in number, the Republicans tried to make up for with signs -- from "W. is Prez. Deal With It" to "Florida is Gore-d to Tears." They played country music and Ricky Martin songs, but the music couldn't drown out the nearby Democrats.

The state Department of Management Services gave permission to both parties to use space for demonstrations outside the Capitol. Security was on the grounds to make sure there were no skirmishes, and Capitol police said no arrests were made. One woman was taken the hospital after what police described as a seizure.

After the rally ended, about 15 Republicans entered the Democratic demonstration, only to be surrounded by Gore-Lieberman supporters and then ushered back out by Florida Highway Patrol officers.

Democrats swayed to the Pointer Sisters' We Are Family, Aretha Franklin's Respect and other tunes. They waved their own signs: "The Bush-Grinch Stole Christmas and the Election;" and "Trust the People. No Special Session." (Later in the day, legislators did call the special session to name Florida's 25 electors in case the court battles continue over the close race.)

Speaker and after speaker complained of voting irregularities that they believe robbed Gore of his rightful victory.

"One month ago, citizens of every color, faith, age and persuasion turned out in huge numbers and elected Al Gore president of the United States. Al Gore won the popular vote, and Al Gore won the Florida vote," said AFL-CIO president Sweeney.

McEntee, of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, yelled: "If they can hijack our votes in Florida, what state is next? . . . Our fundamental democracy is under attack."

Jesse Jackson complained: "We want democracy by inclusion and not exclusion." He described voting irregularities as "sinister, painful, widespread and egregious." Democrats' main theme is that all votes weren't counted because of all the irregularities.

"Your vote matters. You matter. Your vote matters, you matter," Jackson chanted in his trademark preaching style.

While he prayed for Bush, Jackson also criticized him, as well as his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Jackson said election "chaos" in Florida occurred on Jeb Bush's watch.

He urged the Democrats: "Don't stop marching, don't stop moving, don't stop praying."

Many in the crowd got to Tallahassee on buses arranged by the state AFL-CIO.

But Bill Gross of Fort Walton Beach came on his own.

An Air Force veteran, Gross carried a "Vets for Gore" sign.

"Basically, I've been watching this for the last 28 days or so and it was time to just do something about it."

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