Day One on the RNC Protest Front: Huge Vaginas, Friendly Cops, and Fuck Outback Steakhouse

I knew that this would be depraved. Not because I came down here with an anus full of substances; if the $50 million in security preemptively accomplished one thing, it was to scare me out of smuggling mushrooms in my undies. Rather, my premonition came at Logan airport, where I sat stranded in the terminal for two hours with the likes of Mitt Romney cohort Eric Fehrnstrom, who's best known lately for boosting Etch A Sketch sales; anti-choice, anti-marijuana, pro-charter school New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte; and Boston Herald gasbag Howie Carr, who was rocking short-shorts and Birkenstocks despite the promise that he'd sport bright-yellow hurricane year. It was the Mile Low Club if there ever was one.

Fortunately, it turns out that the Republican National Convention did attract some respectable folks. I found a fleet of them on Monday morning, in a field behind the buildings where Tampa's finance chumps crush dreams, and not far away from one of the most bustling homeless populations in America. They were gathered for the much-anticipated March on the RNC, which, due to weather complications, was far less robust than was projected. With that said, there were still a few hundred cats outside enduring a kaleidoscopic spectrum of oppressive climates, which is more than I can say for the Republicans, who otherwise reject science but for some reason yielded to fickle weather gypsies and postponed their festivities.

All the better for protesters, who drove, flew, and bussed in from throws as far away as San Francisco and Seattle. While GOP delegates were shopping at big box stores, activists from seemingly every opposition front imaginable – Occupy Wall Street, Elect Democracy, the Green Party, Food Not Bombs, 99 Uniting, and you name it – were getting warmed up for a week of belittling pols and delegates. Monday's march was supposed to attract 5,000 heads; but with a little less than 500, they got busy anyway, starting with a rally to fire up the crowd with tales of economic woe and inequity. As one speaker noted, for example, there are more than 20 empty homes for every homeless American.

In a good way, there's not much to say about the subsequent marches that hasn't already been well-reported by the Tampa Bay Times and other sources. With the Republicans taking most of Monday off, there was something like a journalist and cameraman for every five protesters. Cops and troopers, who must be under strict orders not to brutalize peaceful marchers, handled everything with kid gloves. They even brought the nice chief down to explain that masks are not allowed (only one person didn't listen, and was arrested as a result). If you can get over their new taxpayer-funded drone tanks, mountain bikes, and uniforms – the latter of which, despicably, have Velcro name badges rather than embroidery, so they can be removed if shit goes down – then they're a decent herd for sure.

Using their better judgement, authorities even allowed a brief but loud late-afternoon rally five miles outside of downtown, in front of headquarters for the Bain Capital-funded Bloomin' Brands, which owns the authentic likes of Outback Steakhouse and Carrabba's Italian Grill, and which furiously lobbies against efforts to raise the minimum wage. In the thick of the picket, I met Simara Martinez from Dorchester. At 21-years-old, she recently had to decide between keeping her job at the Bain-backed Dunkin' Donuts, and attending Bunker Hill Community College. She couldn't afford to do both, so, faced with that conundrum, she linked up with the Bay State organizing outfit MassUniting, and pursued a third option. Along with more than 100 other workers from across America – most of whom have also been denied a living wage by Bain companies – Martinez headed to Tampa to fight for her future. “Romney says that he wants to create jobs,” she said. “But if these are the kind of jobs he's going to create, then we're all screwed.”

There wasn't much action after that, other than a late-night street party in Ybor City, which is the only part of Tampa where there are more authentic eateries than chain holes like Carrabba's. Initiated by members of Code Pink, who had their huge vaginas on display all day, the roving bash grooved through the streets, sometimes aggravating cops but not enough to provoke mayhem. When asked where they were going, one protester told an officer that they were “dancing [their] way out of the two-party system.” It was an absolute riot – but only figuratively – and police must have realized that, because despite their ridiculous 100-plus presence and accompanying helicopters, they eventually cleared out, as most protesters headed to sleep or into bars for a nightcap. Of course, we'll have to wait and see what happens as the week progresses. I had similar nice things to say about Chicago cops at NATO on the first day, and they went on to commit some of the most heinous acts that American protesters have endured in years.

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