TAMPA, Fla. — The most aggressive Republican National Convention protesters rode a bus from New York City to Tampa, but they found themselves without a clear target in the first day of protests.
Dozens of New York Occupiers came down for a series of actions that began in earnest this morning with a march on the RNC mounted by a local coalition of activist groups. Many of the New Yorkers formed part of the protest’s “black bloc” — traditionally a group of black-clad protesters who conceal their identities and form a unit during an action. Most are veterans of the original Occupy Wall Street encampment in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park. And they were the only subversive part of a protest that tried, and failed, to get the attention of any of the delegates and politicians inside the convention hall.
Charlie, a young anarchist familiar to BuzzFeed from protests during Occupy’s heyday, said that the New York occupiers had been in Tampa for “a couple weeks.” Many are staying in “Romneyville,” a dilapidated encampment close to the convention’s event zone, and have been collaborating with Occupy Tampa.
According to Charlie, 83 activists took a bus from New York. Nelini Stamp, a New York activist who represented Occupy Wall Street in contentious meetings with the local community board and who has moved to Miami, put the number at closer to 70.
Some seemed flummoxed by their presence.
A group of young men charged with keeping this morning’s march moving along its permitted path could be overheard gossiping about the protesters in black.
“It’s like, where did all these anarchists come from?” one said.
They stood out in a crowd that was mostly placid and skewed older, staying in its arranged and Tampa-approved path from Perry Harvey Park to the perimeter of the event zone. Many wore bandannas over their faces and exhorted the others to leave the zone where they were allowed to form a rally at the end.
“It’s completely separated from any of the delegates,” Charlie said.
The more hardcore activists, nearly all dressed in head to toe black, some wearing anarchist symbols or tattoos, peeled off into an unpermitted march like the ones that used to snake through downtown New York City when Occupy was big, “taking the streets” and taunting police.
But even the toughest anarchists get tired sometimes. Chants switched from the Madrid-inspired “Ah! Anti! Anti-capitalista!” to “Let us use the bathroom!” as protesters passed an area near the event zone run by the Salvation Army that had Porta-Potties and water coolers.
They mingled and ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, regrouping before heading back to Romneyville.
Two anarchists from New York named Anna and Ivan (pictured above) chatted about their lengthy bus ride, and how they believe anarchy is misunderstood.
“We don’t want destruction,” Anna said.
“A lot of people misunderstand the philosophy of anarchism,” Ivan said. “It’s very misunderstood.”
The New York activists seemed to keep to themselves for large parts of the march, staying in a close-knit group near the front.
But after months of little happening for Occupy-type activists in New York, the convention must be a refreshing change — and opportunity. After all, there’s two of them, with ample opportunities for mischief. At the beginning of the march, the black bloc only held one sign: “Fuck ‘em both.”
The march ended with one arrest — a young man who had refused to take off his bandanna inside the event zone — but otherwise the mood was light.
Asked what she and Ivan had planned for the rest of the afternoon, Anna said through her mask: “I don’t know, I think we’re going to try and have some fun.”