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Low turnout at RNC protest expecting thousands blamed on Isaac

TAMPA — As the Coalition to March on the RNC wrapped up Monday afternoon, police had made at least one arrest — a young man who refused to remove a bandana from his face.

Police told him to take it off, said Tampa Police assistant chief John Bennett, and the man, who has not been identified, did not. Officers arrested him after the warning. He will likely be charged with a misdemeanor, accused of not following the event zone ordinance, which states masks cannot be worn outside the event.

The man was part of a group that had left the official parade route.

During the march, dozens of law enforcement officers swarmed to Perry Harvey Sr. Park when several people wearing all black clothing arrived at the rally.

"There are some potential troublemakers mixed in," said Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee.

Officers and deputies kept a close eye on those protesters, apparently using Black Bloc tactics, as they marched toward the Tampa Bay Times Forum. National Guard officials watched overhead from an overpass near Nebraska Avenue. Some law enforcement officers videotaped the protest.

The protest proceeded without incident until about 1:15 p.m., when a group — many dressed in all black — took off running down Morgan Street. A woman with a little poodle cheered them on "go! go! go!"

Nearby, a street preacher spoke over a megaphone: "You guys are going to die and light up in hell."

The protesters appeared to reconvene at Jackson and Morgan streets, where a group confronted a black Chrysler bearing a Georgia license tag and "Ron Paul 2012" sign.

Several yelled at the occupants, but no one appeared to damage the car.

Police on bicycles surrounded the car and helped it turn around and head down the street safely.

The group took a short break at the portable toilets, stopping for water and cigarettes. Then they headed back to their campground, dubbed Romneyville.

They almost arrived without incident but were interrupted at Morgan and Scott streets when police arrested the man wearing a bandana.

Earlier on Monday, about 5,000 demonstrators were expected to arrive at the park to kick off the Coalition to March on the RNC.

But by midmorning, as Tampa felt some minor effects from Tropical Storm Isaac, the number of protesters out at Perry Harvey, Sr. Park didn't reach 500. There were as many journalists as there were protesters.

"We all know the weather has affected the turnout of this march," said organizer Mick Kelly. "We have a turnout that's a little bit lower, okay, a lot lower, than we were expecting."

But, Kelly added, "what matters is that we're still here speaking out."

Organizers said the low turnout was also due to buses, including two from Jacksonville, that canceled the trips because of the weather.

Michela Martinazzi, 20, of Dunedin, said she was trying to organize carpools from other cities in Florida, including Tallahassee, but most fell through. About 40 people signed up for carpools from Gainesville, but only 12 arrived to the march, she said.

Protesters appear ready for the rain, many of them wearing hats, ponchos and jackets. Members from CodePink and Food Not Bombs were among the crowd.

As rain fell in downtown Tampa, some of the crowd began to disperse as people headed for cover under trees and inside vans.

"Honestly," said Ilene Goldstein, 56, an unemployed waitress part of Occupy Gainesville, "I was more concerned about the militarization of local police and what they might do to us than the storm and what it might do to us."

Members of the organization, Students for a Democratic Society, chanted: "Education is a right. Fight. Fight. Fight. Fight. Fight."

Protesters continued to arrive in small numbers as the crowd planned to march to the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

"The place where Republicans themselves fled from," Kelly said.

Occupy Tampa members were also headed to the march after a soggy night of being camped out at their West Tampa location.

Joshua Casey, from Occupy Washington, D.C., was one of a handful of protesters who actually slept at the camp overnight — in a sleeping bag wedged under a big blue protest van parked on the property.

"It wasn't bad," Casey said, rubbing his eyes. "A little wet."

Casey came to town a few days ago, catching a ride via a Rideshare posting from Facebook. Despite the weather, Casey said the general mood among the activist was "happy."

"I mean, everybody is angry about what's going on," he said, "but everybody is excited."

Tampa police Chief Jane Castor had an impromptu news conference near the march Monday morning.

"Everything's going well," she told media and protesters. "The officers are around to make sure everybody has a good time."

At the Towers of Channelside, located near the forum, condominium association president Ron Hall said Monday morning that residents haven't had any problems getting in and out of their condominium, though security measures are tighter than usual, with only registered guests and residents with ID allowed inside.

"So far it's been 'the storm that caused the calm,' instead of 'the calm before the storm,'" Hall said.

Staff writers Kim Wilmath and Patty Ryan contributed to this report.

Low turnout at RNC protest expecting thousands blamed on Isaac 08/27/12 [Last modified: Monday, August 27, 2012 4:38pm]

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