Sunday, May 20, 2018
Politics

RNC protesters vow to carry on despite Isaac

TAMPA — Her flight is booked, and she's about to start packing.

Occupy Chicago protester Danielle Villarreal isn't about to change her plans because of a little inclement weather.

"Apparently, I heard there's supposed to be some sort of storm?" said Villarreal, 29.

That would be Tropical Storm Isaac, an angry mass of wind and rain that forecasters say could grow to hurricane strength today and make landfall in Florida on Monday.

That doesn't much bother Villarreal — or many of the thousands of other protesters expected in town next week for the Republican National Convention.

A hardy bunch — a number of them used to the discomfort of tent living — they say they'll be here, rain or shine.

"Plan A is to protest," said Medea Benjamin, 59, a Washington, D.C.-based organizer with women's protest group Code Pink. "Plan B is to protest soaking wet."

She's not kidding.

For her group and many of the others planning marches or rallies, it seems there's little by way of a weather contingency plan.

Benjamin's group, about 50 people who plan to stay in the homes of local supporters, will most likely stick it out. If the weather situation gets to an emergency level, she said, they will defer to their hosts about whether to evacuate.

But rain? That's nothing, Benjamin said, recalling a four-month antiwar protest she joined outside the White House one snowy January and another 30-day hunger strike for peace.

"The protest must go on," she said.

It's the same story for the organizers of the massive March on the RNC, a downtown Tampa protest that's expected to draw 5,000 people on Monday, the convention's first day.

"There will be nothing that will stop us," said organizer Corey Uhl, a 24-year-old member of Students for a Democratic Society in Tampa.

Uhl said he has been keeping his "fingers crossed" that the weather will cooperate with the event, but he and the other organizers have been making plans just in case.

They're advising people to dress for rain, to bring plastic bags to keep cellphones safe and to bring umbrellas — umbrellas without metal tips, that is. Those are prohibited in the event zone.

They've also ordered 500 clear plastic ponchos to hand out. They plan to decorate them with yellow March on the RNC stickers.

That promotional space might come in handy.

Chris Ernesto, an organizer with St. Pete for Peace who is planning to protest this afternoon outside the Raytheon defense company in Largo, isn't worried about marching in the rain. But there is this concern: "It could make it tough for the protest signs and banners."

Ernesto, 48, said he has experimented with different kinds of poster board — the kind used for campaign signs seems to hold up the best — and plastic covers.

Protesters won't be completely without shelter, as Tampa police Chief Jane Castor said at a news conference this week. Officials put a large part of the designated downtown protest area under the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway, "so people can get out of the sun, and they can get out of the weather as well."

But in the end, whether to weather the storm may not be up to the protesters.

Flip to Page 9 of the city of Tampa's official convention rules: "Any parade may be terminated immediately," it says, "due to severe weather."

That's defined as hurricanes, tropical storms, tornadoes, floods or severe thunderstorms with winds of about 60 mph or greater.

Kim Wilmath can be reached at [email protected] or 813-226-3337.

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