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Plans unravel for Freedom Festival before Republican National Convention

TAMPA — Freedom Festival is dead.

It never secured a contract to bring tens of thousands of people to Fantasy of Flight just before the Republican National Convention. It suspended ticket sales. Its spokesmen stopped returning calls.

And this week, its website started automatically redirecting visitors to the Liberty Avengers, a new group with plans for its own pre-RNC event.

The avengers include some of the same Ron Paul-inspired organizers who started with Paul Festival 2012 — still on track for three days of music and activism at the Florida State Fairgrounds — and who later moved on to Freedom Festival over differences with the Paul Festival team.

Now that Freedom Festival has fizzled, some activists have transferred their efforts to an event called Liberty Unplugged.

"We just really wanted something to happen this weekend, so we don't lose all the momentum that's been created," Liberty Avengers co-founder David Foster of Tallahassee said.

Organizers are aiming for Aug. 24 and 25 and have their eye on Tampa's Museum of Science & Industry. MOSI is one of the RNC's 73 official convention event venues, and thus the convention's planning team controls who will be booked there in late August.

On Wednesday, a MOSI spokeswoman said organizers have discussed the event with the museum, but there's no contract in place.

"Definitely nothing is firm yet," MOSI's Shannon Herbon said. "It is something that we are considering."

Liberty Unplugged is meant to launch the Liberty Avengers' website, a one-stop shop for libertarians, Ron Paul supporters and like-minded activists. Foster said organizers plan a dinner with top libertarian leaders on Aug. 24 and a day of concerts interspersed with brief speeches — think Farm Aid — on Aug. 25.

Meanwhile, Paul himself plans a free public rally at the University of South Florida Sun Dome from noon to 6 p.m. on Aug. 26, the day before the RNC convenes.

Paul is urging supporters to turn out in large numbers so that his delegates and their cause are taken seriously.

In a nod to the inevitability of Mitt Romney's nomination, Paul suspended active campaigning in mid-May.

Since then, however, his supporters have continued to fight for delegates at various state conventions, with mixed success and some controversy as Romney supporters have pushed back.

During caucuses in Massachusetts, for example, Paul activists defeated some prominent state Republicans on their way to naming their own delegates to the convention. But recently a GOP committee disqualified 17 of those delegates and alternates for missing a deadline to sign a sworn statement supporting Romney's nomination.

Since announcing his plans for the Tampa rally, Paul has urged supporters to set a positive tone, but said the goal is to continue the fight for their values. He advocates for a GOP platform with a different foreign policy, greater protections of civil liberties and less executive branch power to go to war and run drone warfare.

"At the convention," he said in a recent online video, "we're going to have a presence, and I think the rules should be followed on our side, and on the other side. We should not be disruptive, but we also should not be pushed around. … There's no reason why we can't present our views and win some victories when it comes to what we stand for and what the platform talks about."

Meanwhile, organizers of Paul Festival 2012 still are making plans for their own three-day tribute festival at the Florida State Fairgrounds.

While Paul does not plan to attend Paul Festival, its organizers expect there will be a lot of cross-pollination between the candidate's rally and their event.

"We're working around his event as best we can and opening it up to more possibilities," organizer Deborah Robinet said. Paul Festival is offering VIP passes to any RNC delegate (not just those pledged to Paul) and so far more than 350 have registered.

On the day of Paul's rally at the Sun Dome, Paul Festival plans to begin with a Sunday morning service. Around 10 a.m., a "Ronvoy" of hired vans, motorcycles and attendee's vehicles will head to the Sun Dome for Paul's festival. For those who stay behind, Paul's rally will be simulcast at the fairgrounds' Expo Hall.

Then, late in the afternoon, many Paul activists will head to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, the site of the RNC's official welcome event for journalists and delegates.

"We want to be there to welcome Dr. Paul and all of his delegates," organizer Susan Wolfe said. "We're really proud of everything our delegates have accomplished and that he has accomplished in the last 30 years."

Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@tampabay.com, (813) 226-3403 or @Danielson_Times on Twitter.

Plans unravel for Freedom Festival before Republican National Convention 07/11/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 11, 2012 10:26pm]
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