Tampa's Romneyville is the new Hooverville for Republican Convention

07/18/12 Janelle Irwin
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Another activist encampment has popped up in Tampa ahead of next month’s Republican National Convention. Supporters of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign are slowly setting up a camp they’re calling Romneyville. Bruce Wright is leading the effort to make the area accessible to protesters and safe for people seeking refuge.

“A lot of the homeless community and poor people are going to be displaced and persecuted anyway during this time frame and so this is also a safe haven for them.”

It’s called Romneyville to mimic shanty towns that were built in the 1930s by people without homes. Then the areas were called Hooverville after then-President Herbert Hoover who some people blamed for letting the country fall into a depression. Now, Wright says the camp is a protest against what they see as government failures, but also a shelter for poor people.

“Much of the new homeless today are as a result of the current economic situation of job loss and foreclosures. So, the same kind of issues that drove people to have to live in tents in the 1930s is the same thing that’s driving people to live in tents and creating tent communities around the country. Even before the whole phenomena of Occupy emerged there were tent cities.”

The mulched-over space on the edge of downtown Tampa is wet and puddled. So far there are only a handful of hot pink tents given to the group by an unnamed donor. Wright expects that number to grow to accommodate some 250 people during the convention. The group is renting the land from a private owner.

“Because we wanted the security of not having to deal with being evicted from a public park which, to me, still is a crazy thing that they’ve done that.”

Harry, the onsite coordinator for Romneyville, asked that his last name not be used. He hurries around the camp after a heavy downpour drying chairs and tent covers and securing a canopy under a tree. He’s the only one there. More people come and go but the group has already banned two individuals for airing negative messages. Harry says the group will ban anyone who promotes violence or negativity.

“We do not accept any type of destructive or violent behaviors here and while we are out and about. We actually, when that happens, we have no affiliation with it. We are extremely peaceful, very cooperative and these groups that come here like the anarchists, their sole intent, their sole mission is destructive, disruptive behaviors.”

The site doesn’t look much different from where Occupy Tampa has been camping since December. Both have limited bathroom facilities and lack any good place to keep food. Joining forces to combat the challenges would seem like a good idea, but Wright says the two groups just don’t align.

“Our specific purpose is different. We’re trying to highlight poverty, homelessness and unemployment. The message of Occupy includes that of course, but it’s much bigger than that. So, we wanted to keep the focus specific.”

That argument has sparked national debate over just what the Occupy movement is trying to accomplish. Less than two miles away at the Occupy Tampa encampment, in West Tampa’s Voices of Freedom Park, Tristan Lear agrees with people who make the argument that Occupy is too vague. But he thinks that’s not something to criticize.

“The issues are so huge and widespread as to be crippling to any concerned citizen. If Occupy appears to lack focus, it’s because so many of us want to address all of these issues.”

Back at Romneyville, Bruce Wright pulls himself out of a 1980s-model hatchback and thanks a friend for the ride before plopping in a plastic lawn chair. He continues talking about why, even though it might make sense, Romneyville and Occupy can’t be together.

“We don’t necessarily run by a consensus model. We have kind of like a team, a committee of people that were chosen to run the encampment. As it grows there will be more people involved in running it. So, the way we operate is a bit different.”

In contrast, the worldwide Occupy Movement, including the one in Tampa, is run by a general assembly. Lear agrees that their way of making decisions is messier and slower, but they don’t plan to change.

“I don’t think that that doesn’t mean we can’t work together on projects, individual projects. We don’t have to use the same name to work together. We still could use each other’s resources.”

Wright is keeping the location of Romneyville under wraps until their public announcement on July 31. He expects the women’s’ activist group Code Pink to join the Romneyville encampment during the Republican convention.

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the middle class have a message

This is a truly great way of countering the political theater in Congress and Washington itself to try and bring attention to the poor and the middle class which are talked about constantly by politicians but in reality completely ignored. I support this movement because it has already changed the debate from all about the deficit to what I would say to paraphrase a title of a book I heard about on WMNF: It's poverty and middle class misery stupid!