Protests fizzle during GOP convention

By Mike Schneider

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Aug. 30 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

A few demonstrators sit on a Domino's Pizza parking lot in protest, Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012, in Tampa, Fla. The three dozen chanting anti-GOP protesters hit a lull of silence as they marched through a neighborhood of low-income housing in west Tampa. "What are you guys doing taking a nap?" shouted one protester to his cohorts. Another shouted, "You guys are reeeeaaal quiet, now!" The protests against the Republican convention in Tampa have been unexpectedly muted this week, something even the protesters acknowledge.

Dave Martin, Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. — The three dozen chanting anti-GOP protesters hit a lull of silence as they marched through a low-income neighborhood in west Tampa. "What are you guys doing? Taking a nap?" shouted one protester to his cohorts, exhorting them to yell. Another shouted, "You guys are reeeeaaal quiet now!"

Quiet is the right word for protests at the Republican National Convention in Tampa this week. They have been unexpectedly muted and even the protesters know it. Thousands of demonstrators had been expected but only hundreds arrived, mostly Green Party supporters, Occupy Wall Street activists, anarchists and union stalwarts.

Only two arrests have been linked to protests so far — one man for carrying a machete, the other for wearing a bandanna in violation of a city ordinance. That's compared to several hundred in St. Paul, Minn., four years ago. Her streets have been so tranquil that Police Chief Jane Castor canceled news conferences because there was no trouble to report.

Activists blame the threat of Hurricane Isaac, the overwhelming police presence, undercover law enforcement infiltration of their ranks and even the ghost-town nature of downtown during the convention week. Some activists worry they have no momentum built for the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., next week, and then the anniversary of Occupy Wall Street next month.

"Unless you have the numbers out on the street, you really can't change anything," said Nick Sabatella, 25, an Occupy Wall Street activist from New Jersey.

The protesters were behind the eight ball even before the convention started. The threat of Hurricane Isaac stopped at least 16 busloads of activists from coming to town because bus operators didn't want their equipment and drivers headed into possible danger. Downpours on Monday put a damper on a kickoff march that drew only several hundred protesters, not the 5,000 marchers that had been anticipated. And rain continued off and on throughout the week.

"Nobody came down because of this weather," said Jeff Smith, a 38-year-old construction worker from New York, who is part of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Smith also faulted the protest leaders and the tight security.

"They don't seem to be too organized down here," he said. "Probably because there are cops on every corner."

Groups of officers are stationed on almost every corner of downtown. They are riding around in packs on bicycles and are using helicopters for surveillance.

While many activists praised the police for their restraint and politeness, they said the number of officers on the streets was overkill.

"I'm really sad that every four years there is more of a militarization of the police at these conventions," said Cheri Honkala, the Green Party's vice presidential candidate. "It's a waste of taxpayers' dollars and it really scares me that someday there will be nobody left marching."

The police presence isn't just in uniform.

In "Romneyville," a tent village of protesters about a mile from the convention, the residents are well aware that undercover officers have infiltrated their ranks and that they tend to be among the more aggressive "activists."

"You know how if you go into Macy's around the holidays and somebody tries to shoplift something, and you then realize there are actually no shoppers, that they're all undercover police officers? That's the case here," Honkala said.

Without hard confirmation, they have let their suspected undercover officers stay.

"You can't get rid of people if you can't prove it on the spot," Honkala said.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said at a news conference Thursday that he had expected few arrests as the convention wraps up Thursday night.

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