A small, well-behaved coalition of anti-war and Occupy Wall Street protestors didn't faze a phalanx of riot police arrayed to meet them.
TAMPA -- Some 300 participants in the Coalition to March on the RNC rallied in Perry Harvey Park Monday morning to kick off a protest tied to the GOP's convention. The march included representatives Veterans for Peace, and the anti-war group Code Pink, among other groups. Signs and placards assailed "the 1 percent," current health-care policies, and the war in Afghanistan. Rain had been expected all day, but morning showers came and went quickly.
As Code Pink members -- many of them dressed in vagina costumes -- clustered behind Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor during a press conference, she said her department was ready for as many as 5,000 marchers and could easily handle the protest. Only one protester was arrested after refusing to take off a mask. There were many more police officers than protesters. "Justice nowhere; police, everywhere," marchers chanted. Police adopted a technique used in Chicago during the May anti-NATO protests: riding bikes and blocking off side streets to keep the protesters on the designated line of march. When the parade reached the front of the Tampa Bay Times Forum, site of the RNC, massed riot police blocked the way. The marchers turned around and headed back in the direction they had come from. They only challenged the police once, when they prevented the protestors from accessing water provided by the Salvation Army. Given the heat and humidity, the police relented. The march dispersed shortly thereafter.
On Monday morning, Tampa almost appeared ready for war. Armored vehicles, the same MRAPs used in Iraq, passed me as I returned to my car. Helicopters circled above. But there was no hurricane, no massive demonstrations, no anarchy. Just a big bill for those hordes of extra police.