When there’s a seismic shift thousands of miles from any inhabited land mass, those in the doomed locale can prepare all they want, but they can’t avoid the fact they’re in the direct path of a violent tsunami.
That’s probably how many members of the media felt two years ago when they heard the Republican National Convention was coming to Tampa — at least, those who knew they’d have to cover protests. There was that massive federal grant for security. Those rumors about tear gas. Very true stories about journalists getting hauled in at prior conventions solely for being there. Then there was Occupy. Oh, and Tampa’s planned enforcement of “Event Zones.”
Any journalist assigned to cover a protest during the RNC could have reasonably anticipated the likelihood of getting arrested or teargassed or being proximal to brute force and people who throw poo.
Yet, for whatever reason, by late Thursday night’s rally and march against Mitt Romney in Downtown Tampa, a riot had yet to break out. Arrests were at an eerie minimum. There were a few close calls Thursday, though:
Someone had the idea of torching the puppet, even though it stood in the middle of an estimated crowd of hundreds. The idea never caught on, and the demonstrators set out on a march through Downtown Tampa — flanked by legions of police on foot, horses, and bicycle.
1) The coronation of Ritt
Organizers from a coalition of groups including Florida Consumer Action Network, Occupy Wall Street, and Code Pink staged a coronation of “Ritt Momney,” the giant puppet that’s been showing up around town this week.
“Tonight, we are here to say to Romney and to Ryan, we don’t buy your lines,” Reverend Charles McKenzie of the Rainbow-PUSH Coalition shouted into a bullhorn as the rain fell on Lykes Gaslight Park. “We are here to say to Romney and to Ryan, we are the 99 percent!”
2) Vermin’s sermon
Once the protesters got to their first destination — Ashley and Whiting, where delegates were walking into the convention — anything could have happened. Donning a bulletproof vest and a rubber boot on his head, seasoned provocateur Vermin Supreme told the cops to surrender with their pants down. He argued with former Herman Cain campaign staffer Jennifer Lawrence about his right to be in the Tampa Bay Times Forum; she told him he had no right, since he had no credentials.
“Let him in!” members of the crowd shouted, including a Republican or two. Supreme approached the entrance, but didn’t make it in — but he didn’t get arrested, either.
3) Guy without a shirt
They marched east to Morgan and Whiting, where they engaged in a “cuddle puddle” and some political theater in the middle of the intersection, which was closed. One of several protesters sporting no shirt and a black bandanna around his neck — occasionally his face — was getting uncomfortably close to a row of cops who were on foot. Reportedly, he was urging the police to let the protesters march where there was actual traffic.
The crowd — cops and otherwise — was at its thickest here, and he was at the center. Some media waited atop a parking garage, where one could clearly see the action.
After a few tense minutes, the demonstrators marched on.
On the way to the viewing area, a protester identifying himself as “Joseph” said he wasn’t afraid of armed conflict.
“Rome is fallen,” he said. “They know it and we know it, and everyone’s walking on eggshells.”
4) A-hole lotta trouble
After Romney gave his acceptance speech, etc., the march wound up on Ashley Drive, where marchers waited for delegates to exit the convention.
“This is what overtime looks like!” the protesters, some of them lying down, shouted to the row of police officers blocking the end of Ashley.
They marched north on Ashley, some flicking off well-dressed delegates, others shouting about the vanishing middle class.
The two opposing groups were within feet of each other, though police did their best to stay between them.
One delegate called a male protester an asshole and attempted to engage in debate.
“Get a job!” he shouted.
“I have a job!” the protester shouter back.
After a minute or two of shouting at one another — nearly coming to blows — through a wall of police, the delegate’s wife pulled him away.
Another protester claimed she was shoved by a delegate after she got in his face about the genocide of Native Americans.
5) Thundercats, Unite!
It was close to midnight, and the FCAN and Code Pink folks had gone. All that was left were Occupy and some media. The marchers were heading back to Romneyville, the encampment for many out-of-town protesters.
Two tall, black-clad young men were ambling through an intersection along Ashley. One was being interviewed by media when, for no apparent reason, he perked up.
“Thundercats, UNITE!” he boomed.
At that, several of them sprinted to the front of the procession.
Perplexed but alert, bike police rode forward to see what the hell it was all about.
Apparently, it was about nothing.