The first organized march of the RNC began Monday morning when the Coalition to March on the RNC — several hundred strong — left Perry Harvey Park and headed toward the free-speech zone near the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
The march was preceded by more than an hour and a half of speeches made by dozens of local and national attendees. However, the event was greeted by far less than the expected 5,000 people that organizers had said would be in attendance (and leads credence to CL's story from last week questioning the total number of 15,000 protesters, which the mainstream media steadfastly maintained would be in Tampa for the convention).
"We all know that the weather has affected the turnout at this rally," said organizer Mick Kelly, to begin the series of short speeches. "I want to be very, very clear about this. Many people thought the storm would be a grave threat."
But Kelly admitted that the attendance was "a lot lower" than expected. Co-organizer Jared Hamil told CL he heard that one company was to send three buses from Miami but refused to do so, mentioning fears of Tropical Storm Isaac.
The show did go on, though much of the first hour took place as rain pushed down on the audience.
Among the speakers was James Ingel, the Vice President of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1205. He blasted the Republican Party, saying it's appropriate that the RNC is in Florida since the party has controlled all levels of government in the Sunshine State from the late 1990s, and "it has been disastrous."
There appeared to be almost a one-to-one ratio of journalists to activists, as cable and broadcast reporters were looking for something to cover since the first formal day of the convention was canceled due to Tropical Storm Isaac.
Some of the rhetoric from the stage was harsh. "They call themselves the GOP. But all I can see is three Ks looking down at me," said Ciara Taylor, a recent graduate of Florida A&M, and a member of the Dream Defenders — a new coalition of black and brown youth fighting civil rights issues in Florida.
"Privatization of the prison system, health care, cuts to education, you name it, we fight it," she said about the group, which formed after the Trayvon Martin shooting in Sanford, Fla.
Philip Agnew with Dream Defenders said his goal is to get more young people actively involved. "I think a lot of young people think that if you re-post something or tag somebody, or you share it on Facebook, you're doing enough. It's not enough. You've gotta get out here, you've got to be present. That's not enough."
Dream Defenders will also demonstrate in Charlotte for the Democratic National Convention.
Chicano rights activist Carlos Montes made the trek from Los Angeles to speak at the rally. He blasted the Republicans stance on illegal immigration. "Whether it's Arizona or Alabama, with their anti-immigrant legislation ... the current Republican agenda is to get rid of us, to deport us. We're not going anywhere, are we?"
The women from Code Pink — who seem to be everywhere in Tampa during the past few days — made an appearance; as did Cheri Honkala, longtime Philadelphia activist and the current vice presidential nominee for the Green Party.
"I bring a message that we intend to take this one-party system down in America! On Election Day we need to occupy the ballots," she shouted to the audience. "If they don't allow other viewpoints into the debates, we oughta occupy the debates!"
Honkala continued, "Both parties don't give a damn about us, don't give a damn if we can feed our children, don't give a damn about the 8 million families that have lost their homes in foreclosures. They say that they are a group of people who believe in God. Well God doesn't believe in homelessness, God doesn't believe in poverty, God doesn't believe in unemployment, so they are not God loving people, whoever their God is!"
Aaron Black from the Occupy Wall Street movement came down from New York City. He said that the OWS movement had changed the conversation about politics. CL asked him if any of that had trickled down to what the Republicans will be talking about in Tampa this week.
"Clearly changing the conversation wasn't enough," he admitted. "We want to see some laws change. We've got a lot of problems in this country right now. Health care is a human right. What are Romney and (Paul) Ryan thinking?" he asked.
The group then made its march down to the free-speech zone, where more conversation was to take place.