At the tail end of the Republican convention, it seems that the overall atmosphere of Tampa was much more low-key than previously expected. It seems the city was expecting much more of a turnout by protesters, hence the heightened security and heavy police presence.
Reverend Bruce Wright leads the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign and has been helping to organize protests based out of “Romneyville,” the tent city formed outside of downtown in protest of the convention. Wright feels that the voices of opposition to the Republican Party have been absolutely necessary, especially those arguing in favor of the impoverished and homeless.
At an interview in “Romneyville” Thursday morning, Wright discussed the plans for future actions as well as the overall impact of the events held throughout the week. A number of decentralized actions are occurring today, though none specifically as the camp/movement is a loose smattering of different organizations.
Wright spoke of a potential protest today at the headquarters of check-cashing/pay advance giant Amscot. In his opinion, the company’s business model overwhelmingly targets the poor and homeless, and its practices are unethical.
“We are looking at a potential action at Amscot. We are very concerned with the predatory practices of Amscot. Amscot is a subsidiary of Bank of America. A lot of people don’t know that.”
Bank of America is a common target for economic justice groups , and he feels that Amscot by way of BoA is exploiting the poor. One example that’s particularly egregious to Wright is the large amount Amscot charges for cashing a check.
“They (Amscot) charge 10 percent on a personal check. A lot of homeless and poor folk, when they get paid for work they do, they get paid in a personal check. That check may be just enough to cover money to get in a hotel or a place to stay that night, but by the time they pay that fee there’s no money left. We’re very concerned about that and Amscot needs to be exposed.”
The main focus of the protest movements in his eyes is to shed light on the plight of the poor in the United States, including Tampa. The camp recently added new occupants that Wright said had been mistreated by local homeless shelters, and decided “Romneyville” was the best place to go.
“What we’re trying to underscore is a whole culture of abuse that’s happening to poor and homeless folks. That can’t be missing from this whole discussion. Poverty is almost like a cuss word to Republicans and Democrats… they keep talking about the middle class which is shrinking. They don’t talk about what happens to the middle class when they’re shrinking, they end up in the ranks of the poor.”
Though the marches and actions this week were much smaller than expected, Wright is happy with the way the week has turned out. Some of the factors in the lower turnout were groups backing out at the last minute due to then tropical storm (now hurricane) Isaac, as well the heightened security of the downtown area. Their voices were still heard, Wright says.
“In spite of a highly militarized police state, constant lack of sleep due to helicopters flying over, in spite of the weather, the culture of fear that was created that kept a lot of people from protesting, in spite of the small numbers, I think we had a really good impact. We got a lot of attention with the press, I mean Romneyville itself has,” Wright said. “I think we’ve had some major victories.”
Wright is hopeful that their message will call the average American to action. However, he doesn’t think these actions will have any sway on the Republican elite currently in town.
“Their constituency is Wall Street, their constituency is multi-national corporations, their constituency is the oil companies…that’s who they answer to, they don’t answer to the American public.”