Even as delegates to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, rode out tropical storm Isaac after staying put in their hotel rooms for most of Monday, city authorities in Florida had to send out armed riot police to deal with a second force that swept through their city — the Occupy movement.
Though the organisers of the four-day election-year conclave postponed the majority of events on Monday in light of Isaac’s direct path close to Tampa, by Tuesday morning all signs of stormy weather had passed, bringing cheer to the 50,000-plus attendees here. However, Isaac continued to pose a threat along the Gulf of Mexico coast, particularly to parts of Louisiana such as New Orleans — which faced the devastating consequences of Hurricane Katrina exactly seven years ago.
While Tampa escaped the worst of Isaac and hunkered down for a Republican speech-fest, city authorities sent out a battalion of heavily-armed police in riot gear to keep several hundred protesters of Occupy Tampa, the Green Party and the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign at bay.
The protesters initially marched from Camp Romneyville — a settlement for Occupy members and the city’s homeless, and a tongue-in-cheek reference to the “Hooverville” settlements that sprung up during the Great Depression. But scarcely half a mile down North Tampa Street, on their path towards the Tampa Convention Centre, they faced an impermeable wall of riot police — some mounted on horses, others with large rifles and a variety of other firearms.
The mood, however, was light. Protesters poked fun at the “state trooper” tags on the police, calling them “storm troopers” from the Star Wars movie series and sang the film’s theme song. Numerous protesters sought to shake hands with the unflinching wall of policemen. However, there were tense moments when the police corralled the protesters into parts of the street from where they could no longer advance towards the Convention Centre. Media covering the events were boxed in too.
Finally it was a heavy downpour — a parting gift from Isaac — that dispersed both the protesters and police. Dancing in the streets with abandon, the protesters made their way back to Romneyville; and after closely following their path for a some distance, the police broke ranks and removed the street barriers.