The scene at Romneyville, an Occupy-like camp located about 10 blocks from the Tampa arena hosting the Republican National Convention, looks much like others across the country: tents, and angry, politically motivated leftists protesting the economic state of the country.
Modeled on the tent cities that the poorest lived in during the Great Depression era, the group hopes to show where they think the country could go if Mitt Romney is elected President, said John Feeney, one of the camps organizers.
“We’re carrying on the tradition of Hooverville,” Feeney said. “You can call it Clintonville, Bushville, Obamaville — it doesn’t matter. We want to show we’re displeased.”
Calling it part of the “Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign,” they did not show up and simply occupy land, the hallmark and principle statement of many of last year’s encampments.
The leaders of Romneyville, Feeney and Jason Alexander, who handles most of the group’s logistics day-to-day, pulled the site together with the Rev. Bruce Wright, and leased the land surrounding and behind the Army-Navy store located at 1312 N. Tampa St. in Tampa way back in January.
At that time, tents started popping up on the property, said Alexander, as he invited people and others showed up to join in the protest.
Each day, the group serves between 300 and 400 mostly vegetarian meals to anybody who walks up and grabs a plate, said Greg Gifford, an operating engineer from New Hampshire who is a veteran of Occupy Wall Street and volunteers in the Romneyville kitchen.
Resist-RNC, the group that at first glance online has centralized protesters who are in Tampa to oppose the Republican platform, if not the current state of American politics as a whole, is actually many groups, embarking on their own actions around the city, Feeney said.
“What we have is a coalition of groups united in opposing the one-party, supposedly two-party, establishment platform,” he said.
With the rights to private land, Alexander said, all of these groups have been able to come through at one point or another, grab a meal, connect with like-minded people in the area, and move on with their march or to whatever they’re on the way to.
Since police cannot enter the site without a warrant, and the lease allows for the same privacy as an apartment or home, Alexander said they have worked hard at filtering out bad elements who show up. They have been sure to follow city codes down to their last detail.
A few individuals serve as security, and respond when police show up or anybody near the site acts up. There is no allowance of drugs, sex, alcohol or fighting, Alexander said, with no exception.
Neither Alexander nor Feeney, who both live in cities within driving distance of Tampa, will be staying until the lease expires in September, and they are not sure whether they’ll renew it.
They hope, however, that the relative peace they’ve had with law enforcement and lack of problems with people staying there, will successfully send a message about the conditions faced by many in this country, as well as that pop-up communities like Romneyville — or, as the case may be, Obamaville, are not the lawless, crazed scenes sometimes seen on television.
“We’ve worked very hard to make things perfect,” he said.
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