Advocacy groups, UM students protest outside G.O.P. debate

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An elderly woman speaks on behalf of people living off social security, claiming it is not enough to sustain a family Thursday afternoon. Victoria McKaba // Assistant Photo Editor

An elderly woman Thursday afternoon speaks on behalf of people living off social security, claiming it is not enough to sustain a family. Victoria McKaba // Assistant Photo Editor

With the nation’s attention turned toward the Republican Presidential Primary debate at the University of Miami on Thursday, crowds of protesters marched around the school’s campus to voice concerns about climate change, minimum wage and the policies of the candidates who would later debate inside the BankUnited Center.

Organizations such as Fight for 15, Miami Workers Center and NextGen Climate, as well as supporters of candidates from both parties rallied all over South Dixie Highway and in front of the Wesley Foundation United Methodist campus ministry with banners, placards and megaphones. At 6:30 p.m. a protest march went from the Wesley Foundation to the Foote Green and circled back to the front of the BankUnited Center on Ponce de Leon Blvd. Some protesters blasted presidential candidates, with chants of “Donald Trump has got to go” heard the loudest.

Joining the protesters was the Vice Mayor of South Miami, Robert Welsh. Welsh held up a large placard reading, “How d’ya feel about Trump’s fingers on the button?” with the ‘T’ in “Trump” in the shape of the mushroom cloud from a nuclear explosion. He came to the university to share his belief that the Republican frontrunner is not presidential material.

Vice Mayor of South Miami, Robert Welsh, holds up a large placard reading, “How d’ya feel about Trump’s fingers on the button?” with the ‘T’ in “Trump” in the shape of the mushroom cloud from a nuclear explosion. He stood outside the BankUnited Center Thursday after noon prior to the Republican primary debate. Victoria McKaba // Assistant Photo Editor

Vice Mayor of South Miami, Robert Welsh, holds up a large placard reading, “How d’ya feel about Trump’s fingers on the button?” with the ‘T’ in “Trump” in the shape of the mushroom cloud from a nuclear explosion. He stood outside the BankUnited Center Thursday after noon prior to the Republican primary debate. Victoria McKaba // Assistant Photo Editor

“I’m here because Donald Trump is a f***ing a**hole,” Welsh said. “I want to get the word out that maybe in four years Hillary [Clinton] would leave a country where we wouldn’t have a country left, but with Trump, after four years we won’t even have a planet left.”

Wearing a badge that read, “Another Democrat for Ted Cruz,” Michael Calsetta attended the rally in support of the one candidate — who is a Republican  — he thinks is the one who will solve the financial debt crises.

“As a Reagan Democrat, I am an ABC Democrat: anyone but Clinton,” Calsetta said. “If our generation don’t vote conservative in this next election, then the children of my grandchildren will not be able to pay off this debt, and my apologies, but I won’t be around when the bill comes. I mean, you will pay into social security. You should receive something back.”

Dina Weinstein, a writer in Miami, held a sign that read “G.O.P. anti-woman, anti-education, anti-immigrant, anti-environment.”

See More: Video of the protesters as they marched in front of the BUC

“I couldn’t stay home. I am very upset with the messages and rhetoric coming from the Republican party. It’s super negative,” Weinstein said. “I’m not for another candidate, but I don’t think they have positive messages.”

Despite opinions on presidential candidates, the most vocal protesters came from organizations that were fighting for a specific issue. Fight for 15, which wants the minimum wage to be raised to $15 an hour, was the loudest.

“We work. We sweat. For 15 on our checks,” a large group of them chanted. “You want our vote, come get our vote.”

Carrying a large Ronald McDonald model puppet, they protested minimum wages of $8.05 an hour in the fast food industry, a salary that makes living difficult.

“My story is not my story alone. Families like mine are forced to struggle every day to pay rent, put food on the table and even to have access to affordable health care,” said Laura Pierre, a member of Fight for 15.

The group originated from one hundred fast food workers going on strike in New York in 2012, and sparked an international movement of strikes and rallies in more than 200 cities. Fight for 15 hopes that Florida will be the next state to raise the minimum wage.

“We are advocating change. We are out here struggling and we want them to improve and give us $15 an hour,” said Westley William, a member of Fight for 15.

The Miami Workers Center, a social change non-profit organization that fights for social, racial and gender justice in Miami, hopes that the candidates take notice of vulnerable neighborhoods, rights for domestic violence victims and the difference in gender pay.

GALLERY: Republican Debate at the University of Miami

“We need to stand and fight for our community, for our rights and for people who cannot fight. This is the fight right here,” said Yvonne Stratford, who has been working for the Miami Workers Center for 11 years.

NextGen Climate rallied around its campaign, “50 by 30,” which has a goal of 50 percent clean energy in the U.S. by 2030. The group is hoping that the presidential candidates will commit to that.

“We want this to happen because overall, if we aren’t doing 50 by 30, communities will be impacted,” said Marisol Isabella Orcino, a member of NextGen Climate. “People who can’t afford to move to a different location will be affected if climate change happens.”

Mostly composed of adults, the protest included a handful of students despite their spring break. Rebecca Garcia, a senior majoring in international studies, helped mobilize as many student protesters as she could find, because she believes that students can have a powerful presence.

“As students we have a lot of power and a lot of voice,” Garcia said. “I feel like the Republican Party is spouting a very racist and xenophobic rhetoric. We need to stand up and fight that.”

David Ufberg contributed to this report.

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