Thursday, November 23, 2017
Public safety

Romneyville, Occupy Tampa squatters face eviction in weeks following convention

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TAMPA — Few were left Friday to consider the calm that followed the departure of hundreds of protesters who descended on Tampa for the Republican National Convention.

Tents and tarps that once crowded the Romneyville encampment behind the Army-Navy Surplus Market had vanished into the night. Hundreds boarded buses bound for Charlotte and the Democratic National Convention, leaving only a couple of dozen behind milling about on the debris-strewn mulch.

What do you do when everything you had worked toward is suddenly, decisively over?

For the squatters living in the lot on N Tampa Street and in the Occupy Tampa camp at Voice of Freedom Park, there isn't much time to plan.

Both have been given deadlines: Occupy Tampa has to clear out by Sept. 15. The Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign has until the 17th.

Neither knows for sure what they're going to do.

"We have a few strategies we're working on right now," said Romneyville organizer the Rev. Bruce Wright. "The biggest thing we're trying to work out is we have a number of people who want to stay together, to maintain that community."

Wright said the group is looking for another vacant lot to lease, or a house in which to create a homeless commune. About 30 or so people remain, and they want to stick together.

Across town at Occupy Tampa, organizers were discussing taking their movement on the road — to the Democratic National Convention, then to New York for the Occupy Wall Street anniversary this month. Beyond that, who knows?

"Right now we're focusing on cleaning up and moving out," said Joshua Casey, 32. "We're trying to have all of the tents down by Tuesday."

Occupiers said Joe Redner, the strip-club mogul who owns Voice of Freedom Park, gave them until the Sept. 15 to clear out of the park. They were trying to move out before then.

Redner denied setting a hard deadline.

"Those are my friends; I agree with their cause," he said. "Frankly, the neighborhood is so bad. There's so much crime there. Occupy doesn't want to be there. There's shootings."

Both groups said the convention leaving town has no bearing on their existence. Neither is abandoning its cause.

John F. Alexander, the self-proclaimed mayor of Romneyville, which was renamed Obamaville after the close of the GOP convention, said although the groups are not affiliated, he would be willing to fold Occupiers into their ranks — as long as they're willing to follow the rules.

Every resident of the camp has signed a contract outlining the rules of the camp.

No drinking, no drugs, no violence. Civil rights of all people, regardless of race or gender or sexual orientation, must be respected.

"We have our own way of doing things, our own governance," Wright said. "If everyone can agree to that, there's no reason we can't all live together and get along."

Times staff writer Jessica Vander Velde contributed to this report. Marissa Lang can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3386.

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