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RNC Protests Smaller than Expected

There may not have been much happening inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Monday, but plenty was happening outside.

Protesters marched through downtown on approved - and unapproved - parade routes.

Organizers for The Coalition to March on the RNC estimated 5,000 people would show up. Only 300 to 500 actually made it.

Bonnie O'Brien of Tampa was dressed in pink and sitting alone to the side of the rally.

"I have three friends that didn't show up," said O'Brien, laughing. "They called last night and said 'It's gonna be terrible; the rain, it's gonna be windy, you're gonna get hurt and there's probably gonna be riots.'

"And I'm like, 'What are you talking about,' you know?"

With so few protesters, a handful stood out.

William Estrella isn't affiliated with any particular organization, but he made his way to the front of almost every march thus far.

"I like to rage in front. I like to jump in front. That's what I do," said Estrella. "I do it because I have this energy in me that drives to just scream out.

“When I hear, 'We are the 99 percent,' I have to be in a cop's face and reassuring them that so is he - so is she. We're no different."

Before long though, Estrella had gone too far ahead for comfort. Police officers lined up and formed a barricade while Estrella and another protester walked about a hundred yards in front of the group.

When Estrella reached the police line, he simply lifted his fist in the air before sitting down and telling officers how much he respected their efforts.

The parade route ended at what the city is calling the "viewing area" - a sanctioned protest zone within sight of the Tampa Bay Times Forum. It's a fenced-in lot, about the size of a Wal-Mart, but it didn't take long for protesters to decide this wasn't for them.

"It's a cage," one protester yelled. "There are no exits!"

Mike and Vanessa Manti were held up in traffic with their young son, Brock, when the protest wandered onto open streets.

"We were just driving down," said Manti. "We wanted to see the Republican National Convention and next thing you know, we're stuck in this."

"Wrong place at the wrong time," his wife added.

Their son was a little scared because a protester looked into the vehicle.

The protesters eventually headed back to their various camps, such as Romneyville and Voice of Freedom Park.

There was one arrest - 19-year-old Dominick Delarosa was wearing a bandana over his face, a no-no in the security zone. Police officers asked him to remove the bandana, they say, but he refused several times.

A second, much smaller march took place later in the afternoon, led by a group based at Romneyville - the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign. The group marched to the corner of Tampa Street and Kennedy Boulevard, one of the busiest intersections in the city.

Hundreds of police lined the intersection, many in riot gear. They appeared to outnumber the demonstrators. Audrey and Leah Campbell protested at the NATO summit in Chicago back in May. They said Tampa's protests just don't compare.

"Oh, this is nothing," said Audrey.

"We thought that there were gonna be more people here," added Leah. "It's disappointing."

Monday's marches were the largest protests formally organized for the RNC.

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