The 99% Take on the Republican National Convention
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Politics is an elaborate chess match, and in St, Petersburg one small strike was staged against the Republican National convention on Aug. 26 that revealed the thrust of President Obama’s 2012 re-election strategy.
As panicky Republicans cancelled the first day of the convention on Monday because of Tropical Storm Isaac, the focus on Sunday was the “RNC Welcome Event” at Tropicana Field. These days no major convention event is complete without a counter-protest, and in downtown St. Petersburg nearly 500 people gathered Sunday to march to the sports stadium and voice their displeasure at what they derided as “the world’s largest cocktail party.”
Given the spitting rain and gusts, the turnout was better than expected. And given the months of police and press hype that a mob of mayhem-wreaking anarchists would crash the RNC, the protest rally around Mirror Lake seemed more like a festive Sunday in the park.
A couple of hundred people milled about as Dave Rovics belted out crowd pleasers like “ I’m a Better Anarchist than You.” A handful of buses pulled up and disgorged more protesters who came from far away as Miami, New York city and Wisconsin. The rally and protest was organized by the Florida Consumer Action Network, a local grassroots organization focused on public policy issues.
Few anarchists were in evidence, apart from a scrum of fidgety black-clad youth who melted into the rally after drawing stares. It felt like an Occupy-related event with a giant puppet of Romney tagged with a “King of the 1%,” and chants of “We are the 99%.”
Grabbing attention with his preacher’s cadence, Rev. Manuel Sykes, president of the St. Petersburg NAACP, announced, “I’m here to stop the corporate takeover of America.” Sykes castigated “our leaders [who] want to privatize Social Security, Healthcare, Education and Prisons.” He blasted Mitt Romney for wanting “to enrich the 1%.” And he described the November presidential ballot in epic terms: “We’re not just fighting for the 2012 election. We’re fighting for the future of America as we know it.”
On the fringes off the rally, next to a pack of camouflage-clad sheriff’s deputies, a pungent, hippie-looking gentleman with a Ron Paul 2012 sign dangling around his neck and a video camera taped to his helmeted head, taunted the crowd. “Do any of these hippies here supporting Obama know that Obama has dropped two times as many bombs as Bush?”
His words stung one observer who yelled back that “Obama has to do the bidding of Washington.”
The exchange captured the conflicting mindset of the Democratic base. Romney, Ryan and the right are painted, not unfairly, as extremists who will hurtle America back to the dark ages. But Obama, despite sitting in the Oval Office, is seen as powerless.
The weather and fear mongering no doubt cut down on the turnout, but one community organizer clued me in to another factor. The organizer, who wished to remain anonymous, said “A lot of people I work with don’t have hope in national politics. There was an element of fear about the RNC, ‘Can I even go outside with all the street closures and restrictions?’ There is definitely animosity toward Republicans, a lot of ‘Fuck these guys,” but my members also questioned what was going to be accomplished by going out in front of the barricades. I heard a lot of ‘It’s not going to change nothing.’”
The anti-RNC event was labeled a “community vigil,” and it was strikingly diverse. There were anarchists, socialists, libertarians and unaffiliated radicals. Mostly it was white middle-class liberals, working-class African-Americans and a collage of poor people. There were numerous tee shirts and signs indicating support for Obama. What united the crowd was the 99% rhetoric.