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Tampa Republican National Convention: Tea Party + Booze + Stand Your Ground + Protests = ?

As the Republican Party kicks off its Tampa convention Sunday with "the world's largest cocktail party" (stiffening its resolve to nominate the RomRy ticket) thousands of political activists from all over the country will be there to greet them and object. John Law will be there too.

With such a highly contentious gathering so close at hand, South Florida is sending its share of dissidents, a relative handful perhaps, but full of beans and well-practiced in the arts of protest.

In Palm Beach County, organizers from union-affiliated Stand Up Florida have held weekend trainings in protest tactics and evenings of banner- and sign-making. In Miami, another union affiliated group, One Miami, is making similar preparations. Both groups are providing free round-trip transportation for the Sunday demonstration in Tampa (working class folks having to punch the clock Monday morning), one bus out of Palm Beach and four out of Miami. They expect to send 300 or more engaged souls, while an unknown number of other local refuseniks are making their way in car pools and caravans.

Logistics in Tampa involves the sacred and the profane. Sunday's main event will see the protesters assemble across from the Unitarian Universalist Church of St. Petersburg and march to the GOP kick-off party at Tropicana Field, a mile away. The chief bivouac for protesters for the remainder of the week--aside from "Romneyville," a makeshift camp on leased private land inside the city's tightly-watched Green Zone around the main convention site downtown--is in a private park in West Tampa owned by local strip club magnate Joe Redner.

Fire Ant has a couple of concerns.

One is that the protesters' messages--chiefly, and ultimately, about what GOP policies mean for average working people (pain and suffering)--will get lost in a debate about police tactics and First Amendment rights. Happens every four years now, usually because of police overreaction to public assemblies, and because of media interest in conflict. It's a debate well worth having, but not at the price of diverting attention from the objects of protest.

Let's hope Tampa cops show some restraint, even in the face of direct action (trespass, graffiti, property destruction) and, especially, non-violent civil disobedience. Windows can be replaced. Walls can be scrubbed. Fractured skulls (and worse) are an outsize response, have never yet quieted dissent, and end up costing municipalities millions in lawsuits.

The other concern is more melodramatic. Here's the formula: Tea Party/Second Amendment absolutists+Stand Your Ground÷unconventional-looking protesters getting on (inebriated) conventioneers nerves≠peace and love.

If that bloody possibility comes to pass we can thank Governor Evil, who last May refused a request from Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn for an executive order banning guns in Tampa's downtown for the duration of the convention. Evil wrote back that he shared the Mayor's concern about the "dangers" of "civil unrest" but that it is at "just such times that the constitutional right to self-defense...must be protected from government overreach." Way to cheer on the yahoos, Gov, and maybe give Florida another, truly major, tragedy.

Fire Ant--an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes fatal bite--covers Palm Beach County. Got feedback or a tip? Contact [email protected].

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