Opponents of proposed RNC Clean Zone ordinance to Tampa: help us help you

04/11/12 Janelle Irwin
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Organizers from the Coalition to March on the RNC expect as many as 5,000 demonstrators from all over the country on the first day of August's Republican National Convention, and don't want a proposed Tampa ordinance blocking their rights. 26 people from that group rallied in Joe Chillura Courthouse Square last night to oppose the so-called Clean Zone ordinance.

Next Thursday Tampa city council will vote on a temporary ordinance that would require groups of 50 or more protesters to obtain permits. Unless it's changed it would also place a one-hour time limit on demonstrations and specify where groups could and couldn't march. This group of opponents to that measure doesn't mind getting a permit but Corey Uhl, an organizer with the USF Students for a Democratic Society, is worried that as details are sorted out, protesters could be silenced by being pushed away from where the action is.

“We have applied for permits that have a specific route and we want to be within sight and sound of this convention. We want to be within sight and sound of this atrocious event filled with bigots and war hawks – all kinds of awful people. The people of Tampa should not be afraid of the protesters. They should be afraid of what’s going on in that convention.”

Dave Schneider represents four labor councils in the state including the North Florida Federation of Labor. That group has already signed on to participate in a March on the RNC that Schneider expects thousands of people to attend. He said it's in the city's best interest to grant permits to protest and march.

“We’re at the point right now where the city needs to help us help them. They say that they want a clean march. They say that they want us to be able to march, but they enforce all these regulations. They say that they don’t want any kind of disruption. They can help us help them by giving into our demand for a permitted march here. We want to go about this in the best way possible. We want to be able to march with a permitted route. But regardless, yes, we are going to be marching in August.”

Tom Burke has been here before. He participated in the 2008 March on the RNC in St. Paul. He came to Tampa from Michigan for the rally because he wants people to know that what happened in St. Paul isn't going to scare him off.

“Many of us had our homes raided two years later by the FBI or we were followed by the FBI and subpoenaed to a grand jury in Chicago basically claiming we were supporting terrorists groups because of our anti-war activity.”

The proposed Clean Zone covers all of downtown Tampa and some nearby neighborhoods. It includes wealthier neighborhoods along Tampa's waterfront as well as those that are less affluent. In a meeting last week, council member Frank Reddick said that including some neighborhoods wasn't necessary. Marisol Marquez is with the group Students Working for Equal Rights. She doesn’t think the ordinance is needed at all, but was particularly put-off by Reddick’s statement.

“I live right across that area. I live on MLK. That’s exactly where African Americans and people like myself, Hispanic, and just, poorer people than the areas around Davis Island live. So what does that mean? That means that we don’t have the privilege of being protected under this Clean Zone. It’s straight up racist. It’s also targeting us as being poorer and, you know, we’re not being cleaned. We’re not being cleansed of the thing that we’re bringing to the convention.”

Tampa city council is expected to vote on the matter next week. If passed as-is, protesters within the Clean Zone would be prohibited from wearing masks, including gas masks. They also would not be allowed to carry water guns or any item that could be used as a weapon. But protesters are befuddled that people with concealed handgun permits will not be denied their weapons.

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