Protester Greg Gifford does laundry in the Romneyville camp near the Republican… (Tiffany Tompkins-Condie…)
TAMPA, Fla. -- A couple of dozen tents huddle together in an empty lot next to an old Army-Navy surplus store. There’s a semitrailer that makes a fine performance stage, a school bus/communications center right out of Haight-Ashbury c. 1968, and about 200 tough-and-ready residents.
They call it Romneyville, and it’s just half a mile from the center of the snazzy hotels, corporate-bankrolled parties and media entitlement that are at the heart of the Republican National Convention. But the little encampment might as well be one of Newt Gingrich’s imagined moon colonies, so big is the gap between the campers and the RNC.
They say the area around the Tampa convention center and the adjacent Tampa Bay Times Forum forms a security “bubble.” But that hardly does justice to the miles of cyclone fence and concrete Jersey barrier hardscaping that the organizers have deployed here. Throw in platoons of khaki-uniformed police bearing automatic weapons and there’s about as much chance of a Romneyviller penetrating the GOP sanctum as there is of Herman Cain addressing the convention tonight.
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“They are protecting the people who are destroying the country. And from what, we are not trying to hurt anyone,” said Amos Miers, one of the organizers of the protest encampment and a self-described struggling architect who lost his Tampa home to foreclosure.
It’s not that Miers has any great love for the Democrats. He sees a system overrun by corporate cash and with little interest in people like him. Many of the protesters camped out along Tampa Street, with a regular police oversight, plan to decamp to Charlotte, N.C., immediately after the Republican National Convention wraps up on Thursday. The Democratic soiree begins in Charlotte on Monday.
Miers and others have worked hard to prevent some of the more rambunctious Romneyville citizens -- self-described anarchists and “black bloc” protesters -- from busting windows or resorting to other vandalism or violence. “We thought the city had created a hostile environment but we wanted a safe place to protest,” said Miers, 35. “We have to focus on our message and show that law enforcement is not the enemy.”
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Miers described himself as “white, middle-class and college-educated” (at the University of Florida). He said one goal united many of those assembled — getting money out of politics, which he said would be part of “a nonviolent revolution.”
Sixty or more renegades from Occupy Wall Street took buses down from New York City to join the camp, organized by something that calls itself Resist RNC. Over by the outdoor kitchen, a 21-year-old named Serendipity (explanation: “My parents were Deadheads”) said she planned to travel on to the Sept. 17 anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. Later in the year, she heard, there's a gathering in Brazil to protest the displacement of “indigenous peoples.”
“I’m going to go down there and see what I can do,” she said, washing dishes beside a 19-year-old who said people call him “Chilly.” He started an Occupy camp in his native Fresno, joined a caravan of protesters on a 20-day tour of other demonstration sites that ended at the mother rebellion on Wall Street. He’ll pop back to New York for the one-year anniversary of the Occupy movement. Then? Who knows?
The protests need to keep going, Miers said, until there is some real change. Then his cellphone buzzed. “We’ve got food, water, ice, restrooms and friendly protesters,” Miers said, with gusto. “So come on down.”