One arrest during Republican National Convention protests in Tampa

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Rain and wind from Tropical Storm Isaac and a massive police presence kept the protest crowds smaller than expected on the first day of the Republican National Convention on Monday, organizers say.

One protester was arrested following a march through the city's downtown to criticize the GOP's economic and social policies. He refused to remove his bandanna and police took him into custody in a waiting SUV.

Besides that and an arrest Sunday of a man with a machete in a protest zone, authorities said the city has been quiet. A march that had been predicted to draw 5,000 people Monday morning only drew a few hundred.

"Obviously to go from an estimated 5,000 to a couple hundred, the weather had to play a part," said Tampa Chief Jane Castor.

Hundreds of police officers and heavily armed members of the Florida National Guard patrolled the streets of downtown. Protesters were required to conduct their rallies and parades in designated areas and along specified routes, none closer than about a half-mile from where Republicans would be gathering.

"They've militarized Tampa. The chilling effect has succeeded," said Cara Jennings, a voter outreach organizer from Palm Beach County.

Dozens of protesters gathered in a makeshift camp on the edge of downtown Tampa behind a military supply business. Self-described anarchists at the so-called "Romneyville" camp about a mile from the convention center said the weather wasn't dampening spirits.

"Republicans are like `Ahhh, I'm melting,' " said Curtis Hunt Jr., 27, a homeless protester from St. Petersburg. "The weather isn't affecting the energy level."

"Diamond" Dave Whitaker, an activist from the San Francisco area, said presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney didn't understand people like himself or others camped out a mile from where the convention was being held.

"He is a multimillionaire," Whitaker said. "There is no way he can understand life, living down here at the bottom."

About 200 people demonstrated as part of the Coalition to March on the RNC's rally in an empty lot near the arena. Sporadic heavy rain lashed the city and winds were gusting at 35 mph as Isaac passed to the west of Tampa in the Gulf of Mexico. The Republicans themselves had canceled most of their Monday activities because of the storm.

The 60 organizing groups for the protests included labor unions, Students for a Democratic Society, Veterans for Peace, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Occupy Wall Street and Code Pink.

Florida labor organizer Jose Soto said 16 buses of protesters from New York, Miami and the Florida Panhandle canceled because of the storm. He said the bus companies didn't want their equipment and drivers headed into possible problems.

"It's a calamity but all the people here are delegates for those who can't be here," said Soto of the University of Florida's Graduate Assistants United local.

Jennings, who wore a pink, neck-to-knees vagina outfit decorated with sparkles, said she was protesting the GOP's position against abortion rights.

"The right-wing agenda is turning back time regarding women's bodies," she said.

At "Romneyville," a group was rallying at midday for the poor and unemployed. A singer rapped about the housing crisis, banks and the unemployed.

Cheri Honkala, the Green Party's vice presidential candidate, told the crowd that, "On Election Day, we need to occupy the ballots." She said more women need to be involved in the nation's leadership.

"It's time for the men to move over. It's time for the mommas to right the wrongs," she said.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, a Democrat, said the protesters had been given additional space and access to toilets and water.

"We are being supportive of people who want to come and want to offer an alternative opinion," Buckhorn said.

But he said that police planned to respond quickly if groups broke off from protesters and were intent on damaging and destroying property.

Chevelle O'Bryant took video of the protests while standing behind a chain link fence in downtown Tampa. O'Bryant works at Verizon and stood in the company's parking lot, enjoying the spectacle.

"It's overwhelming but it's good at the same time," she said. "I think it's a great thing."

She said she "absolutely" agrees with the protesters and wished she was marching.

"If I could, I'd be out there," she said during her lunch break.

 

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