Thursday, August 23, 2012

Who said there will be 15,000 protesters at the RNC?

Posted by on Thu, Aug 23, 2012 at 10:26 AM

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You can't miss it. It's in every story reported in Tampa regarding the RNC.

Tampa Bay Times reporter Kim Wilmath began her Monday above the fold story like this:

They've painted their posters and planned their marches.

Now the question is, where are the 15,000 protesters expected to come and shake their fists at the Republican National Convention going to stay?

The Tampa Tribune's Ray Reyes and Kevin Wiatrowski cite the same figure in their front page story regarding the concerns about tropical storm/hurricane Isaac possibly hitting Tampa.

But really, does anybody know how many protesters will be at the RNC? And how did the figure of 15,000 become the go-to number?

On Monday, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn told CL that he didn't know where the figure came from.

"I think 15,000 protesters would probably be larger than we will actually see," he mused.

Others agree.

Host Committee finance chair Al Austin said, "We have 15,000 hotel rooms. We have 15,000 members of the media. So somebody in the media says they must have 15,000 protestors." Austin mentioned this past May's NATO summit in Chicago, the last major event targeted by liberal activists. The number of protesters for NATO was never cited, other than "thousands."

Former Tampa Mayor and Florida Gov. Bob Martinez told CL that "They keep saying the number 15,000, I don’t know where that came from. I know we’re talking 15,000 members of the media, I have no idea, that remains to be seen."

Reverend Bruce Wright from the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign is one of the organizers of the "March For Our Lives" protest scheduled to take place from the tent city encampment (otherwise known as "Romneyville") in downtown Tampa.

He attributed the season as one reason why the number of protesters might be smaller. "There's a reason Tampa was chosen, it's hottest time of the year. And there's also all of these other things that have happened this year," he said alluding to Chicago and the Occupy movement.

The fact of the matter is that Tampa Bay, and Florida overall, is not a haven for grass roots activism, certainly not in the dozen years that this reporter has covered events.

Organizers with the Coalition March on the RNC expect a crowd of 5,000 to participate in their rally, which begins the convention week from Perry Harvey Park on Monday. That's by far the largest estimate for any scheduled protest event.

"Historically Florida hasn't seen that many large protests," said Coalition March on the RNC organizer Jared Hamil, referencing the 1,000 plus people who attended a spring rally honoring Trayvon Martin in Al Lopez Park. Two days later at a rally at the 34th Street Church of God in East Tampa, another thousand filled the pews.

Several people in attendance told CL that the rallies reminded them of the civil rights rallies in the 1960s, a time when there were strong levels of activism in the South.

Hamil thinks the last large protest occurred in Miami in 2003 when 10,000 activists participated in demonstrations at the Free Trade Area of the Americas.

"Florida just hasn't seen 15,000 people before," he said.

In recent weeks, CL has spoken with national reporters and activists who contend that there might be more activists present at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. Charlotte is corporate home to one of biggest testaments to capitalism in America: Bank of America. In fact, it's the Bank of America Stadium where President Obama is scheduled to give his nominating speech two weeks from tonight.

The question this reporter has is: Who's going to determine how many protesters are in town? That's dubious. But so is the supposition that we would see 15,000 activists in the first place.

While we're at it: What's up with the number of 50,000? There are less than 5,000 delegates who will be part of the convention. Add up 15,000 (actually 16,500, according to Host Committee Chair Ken Jones) reporters, and yes, just for sake of discussion, 15,000 protesters. That's roughly 35,000 people. You're telling me there will be 15,000 more "hangers-on"? Yes, there will be elected officials and celebrities and others who will attend. But maybe that 50,000 attendance figure deserves similar scrutiny as well.

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