TAMPA — More than three years after the U.S. economy fell into deep recession, protesters outside the Republican National Convention point to what they call a continuing crisis of unemployment and homelessness. As delegates prepare to nominate Mitt Romney amidst a glitzy three-day party in Tampa, Florida, demonstrators camped out in the heavy rains of a tropical storm.
So far, protesters marching on downtown Tampa's mostly deserted streets are outnumbered by police and news reporters. Police are telling protesters not to cover their faces or engage in threatening behavior. Though mostly peaceful, some still wear helmets and masks.
“It is for our own protection; basically, that is all it really is - to avoid being targeted as an individual,” one protester said.
They have come from around the country to camp out in parks and small lots like this rented space which they call “Romneyville.” The name alludes to homeless camps, called “Hoovervilles,” during the Great Depression, named after then-President Herbert Hoover. Camp organizer Bruce Wright says the name is appropriate, given the high unemployment rate and homelessness in the Tampa area.
“We have the same kind of foreclosure crisis today and the people in this camp are a mixture of homeless, formerly homeless, poor people, unemployed people and just different activist groups,” he said.
Camp residents have tried to help suffering locals like Thomas Diehl and his companion, Michelle Kelly.
“Right now they are trying to help us get food stamps, medical help for me and her, stuff like that,” Diehl said.
While many say they are here to protest against Republican Party policies, quite a few express disdain for the political process in general. Alex Ramos is critical of President Barack Obama as well as Mitt Romney.
“He made a lot of promises that he has not kept," he said. "He promised to bring troops back home and he sent about 30,000 more overseas. He signed off on NATO to destroy Libya.”
Many here say politics is controlled by large corporations and wealthy donors.
"We have equal criticisms of Obama, okay, we're non-partisan. We're committed to the principal of justice for everyone," Bruce Wright said. "Both parties are controlled by big money."
Protesters may have little opportunity to be heard by convention delegates. Security is tight for several blocks around the convention sight and police boats patrol adjacent waterways. Regardless of the security and the rain stirred up by Tropical Storm Isaac, the protesters say they intend to be here all week to present their view of what's wrong with the country.