Meeting the RNC protesters

Protesters who took to Tampa's drenched streets during the Republican convention share their grievances with Al Jazeera.


    Tampa, Florida -
    Despite the wind and rain at the fringes of Tropical Storm Isaac, hundreds of protesters have been taking to this city's streets as Republicans undertake the world's biggest pep rally. The storm delayed the first day of the Republican National Convention, with regional politicians fearing the worst on the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

    But a dedicated band of protesters - if small, compared with conventions of the past - has been camping out, establishing a tent village in the back lot of a military surplus store. The community of around 30 tents has become known as "Romneyville" - a reference to the Hooverville shantytowns and homeless encampments of the Great Depression.

    Romneyville has been host over the past few days to rallies, political speeches, musical performances and briefings for and from "alternative media" groups.

    On Monday afternoon, as the rain lashed down, Romneyville saw off a march organised by the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign. The "March for our lives" comprised around 300 protesters, ranging from well-known non-violent anarchist groups such as Food Not Bombs to trade union members, children and the elderly.

    The march - for which organisers had reportedly not received a permit - was swiftly corralled by dozens of police officers on bicycles, reinforced by officers on horseback. When the march reached Gaslight Park, just round the corner from the main convention site at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, protesters were met by hundreds of heavily armoured state troopers.

    The scene developed into an increasingly tense standoff, until further downpours left the dwindling number of protesters running for cover under nearby shop fronts, and the police officers maintaining their positions in the soaking rain.

    Al Jazeera's James Brownsell was there, and spoke with some of the protesters taking part. 

    John Fullerton, Gainesville, Florida

    "I fought for my country in Vietnam, but this country's sick right now.

    "We're in the middle of a mass hysteria - I came out here because I've been awakened and I put my life on the line for my country at one time.

    "There's lots of young people still doing that - and at some point we've got to wake up and realise what’s going on.

    "It's like the great George Carlin said: 'The American dream is dead, you know? It's all being run by a great big club of wealthy people - and you ain't in it!'"


    David Rovics, Portland, Oregon

    "The country's run by completely corrupt politicians who are bought and sold by multinational corporations and don't have the interests of the people in mind, but only those of the rich, powerful and wealthy.

    "That's true of both parties, but especially the Republicans - and I'm here to let them know that a lot of people in this country are very opposed to everything they stand for - from the wars to the corruption to the oil drilling to the lack of response to the climate crisis to the lack of response to the massive problem of poverty in this country, which is getting worse every day, to the bail-out of the banks, the housing crisis - everything.

    "This country is in a complete mess. This country has much more in common with sub-Saharan Africa than it does with Europe, in terms of how some people are forced to live because of government corruption and spending half of our tax dollars on the military.

    "The police reaction to the protests is disproportionate to the point of being very, very surreal. I'm constantly reminded of Kafka - I mean, it's just the way they've fenced off all the streets and the way they have such a massive showing of police, it’s just crazy. Even if there were a hundred times more 'anarchists' who were trying to smash up everything they could, they still couldn't match the cost to the city that they've gone to with all these fences and these police actions."

    Robert Carl Andre

    "I'm here to be a witness and preach the word of God. Among both sides, not just to cops, but also to my fellow protesters.

    "As we all know, there are many injustices in the world, but it's time to set the world's people free, it's time to set the poor free.

    "There's a lot of evil in this world, but there's a lot of beauty in the world, too. 

    "The police are simply following orders, they have no reason to exercise martial law, so, until our side does something stupid or violent, then the floodgates will stay closed - but until then, or another false-flag attack of some sort, it'll be like this stalemate."

    Donny Rhode, Tampa, Florida

    "I'm here to protest. To protect my First Amendment rights.

    "I'm deeply upset about the fact that this protest is being squelched in part by a mayor and a city council and a police department that didn't care anything at all about telling the truth, getting it straight and airing it out and producing a good city ordinance [regarding protest] - and that's why we've got this.

    "That's why these people don't have any place to go, many of them don’t have a place to sleep or to camp tonight that's legal or semi-decent - and it goes far back as 1968 - we know trouble starts at these big conventions when people don't have a place to go.

    "My sign says that 'guns don't kill people, illiterate mayors do'. Florida has a constitution like most states, and it specifically provides for how our laws are passed.

    "After our legislature adjourned for the summer, our mayor wanted to set up his own 'clean zone' [where protest would not be allowed], but he didn't realise he couldn't go beyond his own ordinances.

    "That's how he handles everything, like a complete bozo."

    John Clark, Tampa, Florida

    "I think this reaction is like total overkill, it's absolutely overkill. Just wow.

    "I mean look at these 'Robocops', all these for a bunch of hippies - these people are not dangerous.

    "But I think they were expecting a lot more people also.

    "What did they say they were spending on security? $50m? Meanwhile, we're tired of being poor."



    Follow James Brownsell on Twitter: @JamesBrownsell

    SOURCE: Al Jazeeera



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