It was a sure fire, can’t miss plan, brilliant in every way. (That’s assuming, of course, that you happen be the type inclined to protest wealth, capitalism or the continued practice of Republicans breathing up any of the oxygen.) They would set up a grubby, squalid camp in the vicinity of where the Republican National Convention would take place and name it, “Romneyville.” It’s an homage to the Hoovervilles which cropped up during the great depression which ended long before any of them were born. In addition to offering a visual metaphor to the public, it would serve as a makeshift campsite for the thousands of protesters descending on Tampa to teach those conservatives a thing or two. In addition, they could demonstrate their compassion by offering shelter and food to the homeless, as well as the protesters. What could possibly go wrong?
Sadly, a number of things.
With hardly any donations coming in, there is no money to feed people camped there and not enough tents to keep its estimated 180 occupants shielded from the blazing sun or sudden afternoon thunderstorms, said the Rev. Bruce Wright, one of the tent city’s founders.
“We need about $3,000 to get it going,” said Wright, a member of the Poor People’s Economic Rights campaign. “What we have is a trickle.”
And what of the thousands of protesters? There are an estimated 180 people there and many of them are either organizers or homeless folks.
Wright said the camp, which sits on a commercial lot behind the Army Navy Surplus Market and an adjacent gravel lot at 1312 N. Tampa St., should have had about 300 people living there, planning rallies, speaking out on the plight of the homeless and protesting the convention.
The threat of Hurricane Isaac and the 3,500 extra police officers hired for convention security could have scared hundreds of people off, Wright said.
Their founder also reports that numerous homeless had to be “booted out of the camp” for violating rules regarding illegal drugs and alcohol.
“We need to help (the homeless), but we’re a political homeless camp,” Wright said. “We need to maintain decorum.”
Even with the numerous reports of fights breaking out and robberies taking place, I decided to brave the harsh Florida weather and check it out for myself. But it couldn’t be all that bad, could it? Yes… yes it could.
Wanting to get the straight skinny on the story I decided to go straight to the top. In no time at all I ran across one of the group’s leaders, just emerging from what seems to be the movement’s Intelligence, Coordination and Planning Center.
I finally located one of the group’s spokespersons, Shamako Noble (shown below in the black tee shirt.
Mr Noble informed me that at the peak, the population of camp had been in the range of 120 to 150 people, but it was down significantly when I arrived. While the recent weather with Hurricane Isaac may have been a factor, he said that none of the tents had actually been blown down or destroyed when it moved through. I asked whether the recent media attention had resulted in any increased donations, and Mr. Noble said that there had been a measurable uptick. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to come in the form of money, but there was a pile of clothes – presumably – over near one of the fences which he said had been donated, as well as some food items.
With the pictures above, I’d have to say the original article’s description of conditions in Romneyville was pretty accurate.