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Anarchists, Voter Suppression Opponents Rally on RNC Convention's Opening Day

The protest activity in downtown Tampa surrounding the Republican National Convention remained sporadic - but spirited - Tuesday. A rally in support of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church quickly turned into a parade of anarchists.

After the Westboro Church protest fizzled, the anarchists took over. A group of several dozen people, led by black-clad people with bandannas hiding their faces, left the official viewing area for a march through downtown.

They faced row upon row of riot police adorned with plastic face shields, batons and body armor.

"We are unarmed civilians!" they cried.

The police officers didn't respond to the taunts; they stood stoically. The ones on bicycles moved quickly to get ahead of the mass of people, lining up their bicycles wheel to wheel to form a mobile barricade.

The protesters moved through the heart of downtown and eventually ended up under an expressway overpass, drinking in the welcome shade.

They were picked up there by buses and brought to Ybor City for the next scheduled parade - this one called "The March Against Voter Suppression."

'We are standing up against attempts to suppress black folk's votes all around the country," said Rashad Robinson of Color of Change, a voter advocacy group.

"Because every single day, we hear the voices of our members," he said. "We are the voice of mothers who want a voice in our democracy, as they hear how our economic system or criminal justice system is treating their young people.

"When their voices are heard just as loudly as politicians and corporations, that's when our our democracy begins to work for everyone."

A rapper then stoked the crowd: "They bail out all the banks, raise the stakes for corporate cronies.We have to chose between bankruptcy and our heart exploding? We see the plot unfolding, cooped up in a pseudo-free market just as it starts imploding. "


The musical selections on the stage at Centennial Park ranged from hip-hop to this variation on an old protest standard, "This Land Is Your Land."

And then, the protest began as police closed down Seventh Avenue, Ybor City's main drag.

"Hey  hey, ho ho, Voter Suppression has got to go," they chanted.

After the parade, April Bullock of Tampa wiped the sweat from her brow and gave her reason for marching.

" I don't support the Republican Party," she says. "All the little racial remarks, the voter suppression, the constant changing of the laws in Florida to make voting more difficult. It goes back to Jim Crow laws."

She says protests like this one send a powerful message.

"It's powerful in that even though the RNC is being held here in Tampa and is being held in Florida - a very red state - there are just as many people here who do not uphold, believe or support the Republican agenda."

All the talk here about the need for well-paying jobs isn't an abstract concept for Bullock. She's got a master's degree in social work and says in the four years she's lived in Florida, she has struggled to find decent work.

"I've gotten jobs that pay $9.50 for a master's degree," she says. "So my degree has been pimped and used out here."

And with that, Bullock disappeared into the sea of placards and marchers.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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