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WUSF News Staff
Law & Order
Mon August 27, 2012
RNC Marchers Take to the Streets of Downtown Tampa
The first day of the Republican National Convention might have been canceled, but that didn't stop a march by a coalition of about a dozen protest groups. The wet weather put a damper on their numbers, but apparently not their spirit.
It was in some ways anti-climatic. A protest that had been in the planning stages for months - with projections of more than 5,000 people clogging Tampa's downtown - fizzled in the rain.
Estimates ranged from 300 to 500 protesters at Perry Harvey Park. There seemed to be as many journalists as protesters.
Organizers had counted on flooding the streets outside the convention gates with protests against the "one percent." But Jared Hamil of the Coalition to March on the RNC was undeterred.
"You know, we don't control the weather," Hamil said. "The fact is airports have closed, bus companies have canceled. This has not worked in our favor. But that said, people from around the country are here, and they are united against the Republicans and one percent. And we are going to march on the Tampa Bay Times Forum. We're going through the streets, because that's our only option."
One of the speakers at the park was James Ingle, of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Gainesville.
"We live in a state that is second in number of millionaires, and 37th in wages," he told the crowd. "We live in a very rich state, full of very poor people."
The phalanx of marchers left the park around noon behind a line of banners and signs. There were Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS. Occupy Tampa was there, along with Food Not Bombs. Not to mention the Raging Grannies. One of the grannies was Alice Sutter of New York City.
"The RNC is full of money and full of lies and going to make our planet much, much worse, so we have to expose them for what they are," says Sutter.
They were all hemmed into the pre-determined parade route by officers manning the 200 bicycles Tampa police bought for this occasion.
Electrical contractor Chuck Sprague of St. Petersburg was working a job in downtown Tampa and swung by the parade for a closer look. What he saw didn't impress him.
"What's their solution to anything? All I ever hear is how they're the 99 percent. Which they aren't. Because the 99 percent are working today," said Sprague. "I think they have the right to speak their mind. It's just a shame that they don't have much of a mind to talk about."
The protesters reached the public viewing area, within earshot of the Tampa Bay Times Forum. But then, a handful of protesters broke away from the group. They were clad in black -- like the anarchists known as the Black Bloc.
Police on bicycles tried to herd them back to the viewing area by blocking the streets. But some of the crowd outflanked the officers, forcing them to scramble to block the next street. Police ultimately allowed them to go back to the parade staging area and a tent encampment called "Romneyville."
One person was arrested for wearing a mask - a violation of Tampa's so-called "Event Zone" rules. Police Chief Jane Castor was on hand to help direct the officers.
"All is well right now. Everything is peaceful," Castor says. "Obviously, not the numbers that they wanted in this march. But we've got three more days, so everything's working well, so far."
When asked how he will determine if the march is a success, Hamil said just the fact that it's being held makes it successful.
"I think the fact that people from around the country - different movements - have united against the Republicans and the one percent - in Tampa, Florida, one of the most geographically inopportune locations in the country - the fact that they are here means that people can unite," Hamil says. "People can united even in a tropical storm."
The protesters aren't done yet - several more are planned through the convention's conclusion Thursday night.