2012-08-28 "Peaceful anarchists?" by Jo Piazza from "Current TV"
Protesters took to the streets of downtown Tampa on Monday afternoon in a loosely organized march called Occupy the RNC.
While following a city-mandated "parade route," the group simultaneously chanted against corporate greed, government malfeasance and the Republican National Convention generally.
Protesters ranged from as young as 14 to several men and women in their 80s.
It is worth noting that the approximately 1,800 police officers on the streets of downtown Tampa outnumbered the protesters by about a power of five, making the blocks around the Tampa Bay Times Forum look more like a police state than a convention hub.
Toward the end of the march, a splinter group, referring to themselves as anarchists, made their way to a side street where they regrouped and smoked rolled cigarettes near a row of portable bathrooms while accepting water from Salvation Army volunteers.
Much has been made of the anarchist protestors in Tampa.
A report surfaced days before the convention that anarchist groups had plans to wreak havoc in Tampa by blocking roads, shutting down transit systems and harassing police and pedestrians with eggs filled with acid and balloons full of urine and feces.
The bulletin also warned of a specific group of anarchists from New York City that had plans for blockading bridges.
They don't look that scary in person.
We couldn't help but wonder, what exactly is an anarchist and what are they doing at the Republican National Convention?
This group claimed they just want peace, and, in fact, when confronted by a scrum of counter-protestors — Christian right-wingers that spewed insults and hate speech at them — the anarchists stepped down.
"We will not engage with you," they said. With that, they walked away.
We asked two of them to explain exactly what they came out for in Tampa. Their ideas may not be as fully formed as many protesters' around the country and things may change as this week goes on, but the evidence on Monday showed that this group, at least, was fairly benign in their intentions for violence.
"Anarchism means a system without government. And a lot of people think a system without government would be complete chaos, but I think all governments have done for the world is poison, corrupt and enslave society. ... Our government is taking a giant crap on the Constitution every day," one masked and unnamed anarchist protestor explained above the din of wails from his comrades over the arrival of what they believed was Homeland Security, but was actually a routine drive-by of motorcycle police.
"I am hoping to accomplish peaceful protests like everyone else," he told us, before fleeing down the street.
2012-08-30 "Protests Fizzle During GOP Convention"ABC OTUS News [http://news.yahoo.com/protests-fizzle-during-gop-convention-211101677.html]:
The three dozen chanting anti-GOP protesters hit a lull of silence as they marched through a low-income neighborhood in west Tampa. "What are you guys doing? Taking a nap?" shouted one protester to his cohorts, exhorting them to yell. Another shouted, "You guys are reeeeaaal quiet now!"
Quiet is the right word for protests at the Republican National Convention in Tampa this week. They have been unexpectedly muted and even the protesters know it. Thousands of demonstrators had been expected but only hundreds arrived, mostly Green Party supporters, Occupy Wall Street activists, anarchists and union stalwarts.
Only two arrests have been linked to protests so far — one man for carrying a machete, the other for wearing a bandanna in violation of a city ordinance. That's compared to several hundred in St. Paul, Minn., four years ago. Her streets have been so tranquil that Police Chief Jane Castor canceled news conferences because there was no trouble to report.
Activists blame the threat of Hurricane Isaac, the overwhelming police presence, undercover law enforcement infiltration of their ranks and even the ghost-town nature of downtown during the convention week. Some activists worry they have no momentum built for the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., next week, and then the anniversary of Occupy Wall Street next month.
"Unless you have the numbers out on the street, you really can't change anything," said Nick Sabatella, 25, an Occupy Wall Street activist from New Jersey.
The protesters were behind the eight ball even before the convention started. The threat of Hurricane Isaac stopped at least 16 busloads of activists from coming to town because bus operators didn't want their equipment and drivers headed into possible danger. Downpours on Monday put a damper on a kickoff march that drew only several hundred protesters, not the 5,000 marchers that had been anticipated. And rain continued off and on throughout the week.
"Nobody came down because of this weather," said Jeff Smith, a 38-year-old construction worker from New York, who is part of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Smith also faulted the protest leaders and the tight security.
"They don't seem to be too organized down here," he said. "Probably because there are cops on every corner."
Groups of officers are stationed on almost every corner of downtown. They are riding around in packs on bicycles and are using helicopters for surveillance.
While many activists praised the police for their restraint and politeness, they said the number of officers on the streets was overkill.
"I'm really sad that every four years there is more of a militarization of the police at these conventions," said Cheri Honkala, the Green Party's vice presidential candidate. "It's a waste of taxpayers' dollars and it really scares me that someday there will be nobody left marching."
The police presence isn't just in uniform.
In "Romneyville," a tent village of protesters about a mile from the convention, the residents are well aware that undercover officers have infiltrated their ranks and that they tend to be among the more aggressive "activists."
"You know how if you go into Macy's around the holidays and somebody tries to shoplift something, and you then realize there are actually no shoppers, that they're all undercover police officers? That's the case here," Honkala said.
Without hard confirmation, they have let their suspected undercover officers stay.
"You can't get rid of people if you can't prove it on the spot," Honkala said.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said at a news conference Thursday that he had expected few arrests as the convention wraps up Thursday night.
"We have trained so hard and so long for this," Buckhorn said. "When this is said and done, this will be the benchmark that every city should strive for."
Castor said her strategy was to approach the protesters, ask what their goals are and then help them reach them. Often, protesters simply wanted to pose in an intersection for the media. She let them if they didn't intend violence. Officers even took leftover food to Romneyville.
"Everyone was to be treated with dignity and respect," Castor said.
The nature of downtown also made it harder for protesters to be heard. Few people live there and many businesses told their workers to stay away during the convention, leaving the streets nearly empty.
"We could protest until we're blue in the face but there weren't people normally around to see that," said Darrell Prince, a 35-year-old political fundraiser from New York who is part of Occupy Wall Street. "Whether it was intelligent design or they were just fortunate, it worked out for the RNC."
On Thursday, 16 protesters, watched by 35 officers, marched from Romneyville to Domino's Pizza to protest corporate-owned businesses. Despite the low numbers, protesters eked out some victories.
As Paul Ryan was in the midst of a speech accepting the vice presidential nomination on the convention floor, he was disrupted by a pink banner and a yelling protester from the feminist group Code Pink. She was escorted out as some in the crowd shouted "U-S-A, U-S-A."
Many Romneyville residents are relocating their impromptu community to Charlotte and the Democratic convention. They are hoping for bigger crowds and more energy, drawing on Occupy activists from cities along the Eastern seaboard.
"Who knows?" Sabattella said. "Maybe it can still happen."
2012-08-29 "Citizens Struggle in the Shadow of the RNC" by Ruth Conniff from "The Progressive"
Law enforcement officers block a downtown street during a protest on
August 27, 2012 in Tampa, Florida. The demonstration was being held just
before of the start of the Republican's nominating convention which
will hold its first session on August 28. The convention was scheduled
to start on August 27 but was pushed back one day as Tropical Storm
Isaac threatens to hit the Tampa area. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty
you look, there are flocks of police on bicycles, on horseback, jumping
out of trucks in full body armor. Roads are blocked, and downtown Tampa
is ringed with high fences, forcing anyone who strays outside the
convention compound to walk extra miles to circumnavigate the heavily
Even local library branches are closed.
god, they walled off the county building!" Terrie Weeks, an
environmental activist who works at a local law firm, said as she drove
through town. "You can't believe how weird this is to a local."
Who is all this security keeping away?
weeks, the local news kept warning everyone about violent anarchists,"
said Mark Skogman, a radio reporter and multimedia specialist who is
involved in local politics. "People on the local council were so
terrified about these violent anarchists coming in, they were talking
about leaving the area. I finally calmed them down."
too mild a word to describe the contrast between the heavy security and
the protests in Tampa, which have been peaceful, and somewhat muted by
There is a shantytown called Romneyville at a local
park, which was the starting point for a 500-person march demanding an
end to foreclosures. There was a beautiful melting ice sculpture in the
park that formed the words "middle class."
A group called Progress Florida has a complete "progressive's guide to the RNC" on its website: [www.progressflorida.org].
Rice, Progress Florida's executive director, moderated a panel
discussion in St. Petersburg on Monday night titled, "Is This What
Democracy Looks Like?"
In the shadow of the RNC, where helicopters
buzzed overhead, local activists expressed their disillusionment with
both political parties.
People feel powerless in a democracy
hijacked by corporate interests and seemingly as inaccessible to
ordinary citizens as the Tampa Bay Times Forum where the Republicans are
Rice seconded a comment from one activist in attendance about feeling like "a grain of sand trying to fight against the ocean."
the inspiring examples of the massive protests in Wisconsin and Occupy
Wall Street, activists are not sure where to put their energy in this
Panelist Arun Gupta, a progressive journalist and
chronicler of the Occupy movement, spoke for many in the crowd when he
talked about the disappointments of the Obama Administration--from
continuing the war in Afghanistan, to pursuing policies of assassination
and torture, to the coddling of Wall Street bankers and an inadequate
rescue effort for the American middle class.
On the other end of
the panel, Judithanne Scourfield-McLaughlin, a professor at the
University of South Florida who worked for the Gore campaign in 2000,
urged progressives to pour their efforts into getting out the vote for
Scourfield-McLaughlin warned that a Romney-Ryan administration would be a disaster. No one disagreed.
key problem, she said, is that people who ought to vote for the
Democrats don't vote--or, in 2000, that they voted for the Green Party.
illustrating the biggest problem with the Obama campaign,
Scourfield-McLaughlin dismissed the failed effort to recall governor
Scott Walker of Wisconsin as a distraction from the "real" election.
Talk about out of touch.
President literally phoned in his support for the Walker recall effort.
He deliberately avoided a grassroots fight on the core principles his
party is supposed to represent. Yet now his campaign expects activists
in Wisconsin to pour their hearts and souls into getting out the vote
The fact that the Democrats are making the same argument
they made in 2000--that the left must fall in line and vote for the
lesser evil--even if it's true, as almost everyone in the room
agreed--shows what a long way we've come from the excitement and
optimism of 2008.
People all over the country are hurting. Yet
there have been no criminal charges against the bankers who caused the
financial crisis--let alone serious bank regulation. Cutting government
spending, "entitlement reform," and reducing the deficit are talking
points not just for Republicans, but for Obama, too.
No wonder people are discouraged.
if national politics looks terribly alienating, local activists groups
-- including Awake Pinellas, which sponsored the panel in St. Petersburg
-- are doing serious, constructive work.
Awake Pinellas is part
of a massive citizens' movement in Florida called Awake the State, which
grew out of Wisconsin-like protests from Pensacola to Key West opposing
Governor Rick Scott and the Republican legislature's program of deep
cuts to education and health care.
St. Petersburg is one of a
handful of cities where elected officials are now talking openly about
raising taxes to protect citizens' quality of life.
Rice credits the local Awake coalition, which includes the SEIU, League of Women Voters, the NAACP and smaller, local groups.
Pinellas launched something called the People's Budget Review to fight a
program of austerity on the local level that was choking schools,
libraries, and services for the poor.
"We had a lot of workshops
on the budget, and packed the room at city council meetings with
citizens calling for an alternative," Rice explains.
The Republican mayor who is facing reelection is no longer talking about
more budget cuts, and instead the council is debating between raising
property taxes and imposing new fees. Cuts to services are off the
Packing those meetings gave council members "cover" to talk
about how public investment is key to attracting business, how budget
cuts hurt the area, and how citizens' quality of life is adversely
affected by austerity, Rice says.
"It's not all roses," Rice adds--some regressive fees are being debated.
But slashing public jobs, reducing library hours, and closing polls--all of which were on the table--are now off.
violent anarchists may be AWOL, but in St. Petersburg at least,
citizens are winning battles in the fight to take back their government.