Delegates Party - and Demonstrators Shout - at Kickoff Party for Republican National Convention

Aug 27, 2012

Delegates were treated to a giant party - and protesters tried to rain on their political parade -  as the first activities began Sunday at the Republican National Convention.

Tropicana Field traded its usual ambiance of hot dogs and baseball for a sumptuous feast of lobster, seafood and Cuban food for the giant kickoff party for the RNC. Rock 'n roll blasted from the speakers and  belly dancers from Busch Gardens fire fired up the crowd, trying to put a positive spin on the Tampa Bay area for delegates from all over the country.

George and Linda Wiland are convention delegates from Tulsa, Oklahoma. They were at the last GOP convention in St. Paul, and say they like this one better - they're not being bugged here by salespeople.

"It's really nice. It's very different from the last one," she says.

When asked what he thought of the Tampa Bay area, George Wiland said "So far, we're very pleased, as long as you don't get on one of the bridges that you don't intend to get on."
 
Ken Jones is president of the RNC host committee.

"It's not about Barack Obama, it's not about Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan or Joe Biden. It's about Tampa Bay," says Jones. "It's about making sure that this community really understands that we are on a world stage right now. We're going to showcase our city to the world.

SOUND: (Chants from protesters.)

But several hundred protesters, who massed outside the ballpark's newly-installed high steel fences, had a different view. Some climbed the fences and joined the shouting.

Groups came from all over the country to protest a number of issues. Nilorean Hurt is with the group Good Jobs Now of Detroit.

"I've got friends who have three kids and are trying to survive off of $7.25 an hour, a minimum wage. And it's either going toward gas or diapers. You can't survive off of that," he says. "So what we're trying to do is get it from minimum wage to $10 an hour, so that people don't have to struggle as hard."

Before they left their staging area at Mirror Lake Park, the group's self-designated crowd marshals met with Ken Bergeron. He's a senior conciliation specialist with the U.S. Department of Justice who was trying to keep the demonstration peaceful.

"With anarchists, you all know of peacekeeping techniques," he told the demonstrators. "If you have someone who's trying to disrupt, you know how to isolate - that means you take one or two persons off the route, and then you could either call one of us or get law enforcement to do an extraction. Because otherwise, they will disrupt the event for you, right?"

Tropical Storm Isaac kept several thousand people from showing up at Tropicana Field. Jones doesn't think it will affect the area's chances of landing a big event again the future.

"The idea that a single weather event would mar a state from having a convention - I just think that that's absurd, quite frankly," says Jones. "You would never go to California, then if you ever thought that a weather event would prevent you from having a convention, because there's a possibility of having an earthquake."

Meanwhile, about 200 protesters made their presence known a little closer to the convention site.

They began the day at Gaslight Park in downtown Tampa. About half the group branched off to the Bank of America building, placing stickers and writing in chalk at the building's entrance.

Tampa police say they left after being asked to return to the sidewalk. The other half marched to the public viewing area near the Tampa Bay Times Forum, chanting and holding a brief rally before heading to the protest in St. Petersburg.

It's all a warm-up to today's big event, where from 10,000 to 15,000 protesters are expected to parade through downtown Tampa on what would have been the first day of the convention.