Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Politics

RNC protesters get moment of disruption at TECO power plant

TAMPA — The heat, marching and frustration could be seen on protesters' weary faces on the last day of the Republican National Convention.

Many at the tent city dubbed Romneyville declined to join an anti-Bain Capital demonstration barely blocks away at a Domino's Pizza. The camp's big blue school-bus-turned kitchen had shipped off to New Orleans to help with Hurricane Isaac. Food was so scarce that Tampa police brought protesters boxed lunches and ice-cold bottled water.

The protesters, who had yet to make the impact many of them had hoped, needed momentum. They found it Thursday afternoon far from downtown, at a power plant in Apollo Beach. It culminated late Thursday in a crowd of more than 200 making a final march downtown, drumming, chanting and singing just as Mitt Romney was preparing to accept his party's nomination for president.

The protesters' last gasp for recognition began in the afternoon when 120 boarded two buses, most not knowing why they were headed 15 miles south.

Ahead of them went a team organized by the group, Earth First, that included four men and three women between the ages of 21 and 31. At the entrance to the TECO Big Bend Power Station, the group split up.

Two teams of three chained their arms together inside PVC pipes that were wrapped with chicken wire, tar, rebar and duct tape. They lay in the middle of the road. A power plant truck coming up the road was stopped and the seventh protester climbed on top and chained his neck to it.

The protesters on the ground sang a version of the pop song Call Me Maybe: “Hey I just met you, and this is crazy, but this is a lockdown, please don't tase me."

"I thought, 'This is where I can come and make a stand,' " Christian Minaya, 31, of Palm Beach County said. "We have to interrupt to send the message that we are not going to take this no more, and we are not going to let them pollute our air and water."

Soon, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office sealed off U.S. 41 and Big Bend Road, and the buses parked as close as they could.

A swarm of police, deputies and Sheriff David Gee surrounded the piles of protesters and PVC pipes with circular saws, lube and giant scissors and began to untangle the bodies. They offered the roadblockers water, even snacks, and, along with a Department of Justice official, made them a deal: no arrests as long as everyone gets back on the buses and leaves.

It took about four hours to free all the protesters. They carried a "No jobs on a dead planet" banner as they walked away, feeling as if they had accomplished sending a message about the "dirty money" they say TECO lines Republicans' pockets with.

"We're actually surprised we're not being arrested, honestly," said Tyler Mitchell, 27, of St. Petersburg, one of the freed protesters.

Thursday night, Romneyville again came alive and protesters marched past a delegation hotel toward the Tampa Bay Times Forum. The police let them around barricades on Morgan Street as the protesters headed to a designated protest zone.

There, in the middle of the street, between 50 and 75 stopped and dropped into a puddle of bodies on the asphalt.

A man donned red horns to represent the devil, and a semi-circle sprawled on the ground around him clapped as he sang.

Later, they took to their feet again in the protest zone.

Times staff writers Kim Wilmath, Marissa Lang, Patty Ryan, John Woodward Cox and Jamal Thalji contributed to this report.

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