TAMPA, Fla. — When we first saw the kids, two absolutely adorable children, we asked the little girl how old she was. She looked at us from under a chair where she was hiding at the main Occupy camp — “Romneyville” — with the world’s largest grin and spoke from behind her pink flowery sunglasses.
The boy was shy and only smiled. We took a few pictures of them and they giggled at my big blue poncho.
Less than an hour later, as the Occupy team departed the camp, we were confused about the children’s role in the march. Bullhorns echoed activists’ banners as they paraded through town: The ninety-nine percent won’t stand for housing injustice. In full swing, chants were rattled off and gentle faces mutated into anger. Jostled and shoved as tension grew thicker, the marchers slowed to a crawl.
People shouted. And the children began to take on a starring role in the protest.
Ahead of the crowd, as the leaders droned on about lineage and generational awareness, the two children we had met were being led to the front of the march, walking through a rainstorm and the threat of police violence.
There were other kids too: We spotted another little boy holding a miniature bullhorn and shouting along with the crowd, stopping every so often to adjust his glasses.
The atmosphere intensified as police cordoned off entryways. Bicycle wheels lined up in a row, and the image of riot police in full gear became too much.
Kids were pushed, boxed in by their group. One of their mothers flew off the handle.
We were at a dead end, pushed to the front of the crowd and positioned directly between the protesters and the baton-wielding — yet thoroughly professional — security forces. Vermin Supreme, wearing a rain boot on his head and a Styrofoam moon on his nose, began to calmly urge peace and mutual respect.
Some occupiers harassed the police, but the uniformed cohort held their position. Chants of “we are the proletariat” and “a… anti… anti-capitalista” rang out and fueled the mob.
We lost sight of the children. We didn’t see them again.
Daily Caller video editor Grae Stafford managed to grab a shot of the children being led away. One of them was sobbing as an organizer snatched him up from the fray.
As the rain picked up, a lone child — seemingly without parents nearby — biked by us and shouted, “Fuck this shit — I’m not homeless.”
We saw so much yesterday. We spoke to Occupiers, we spoke to security forces, we understood the tension. But seeing children placed in front of conflict-seeking adults as they marched toward possible armed conflict rattled us to the core.
In-story photographs by Zach Gorelick. Final photograph by Grae Stafford.