Early RNC protests focus on Bank of America

TAMPA — Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets Sunday to march against what they called corporate greed and to advocate for low-wage workers and an increase in the federal minimum wage.

The Republican National Convention may have been throw off-schedule by the incoming storm, but demonstrators wasted no time getting started.

One of Sunday’s first targets: Bank of America

Some 200 demonstrators gathered in downtown park for an unscheduled protest. After a series of speakers criticized tax cuts for the rich, about half of the group split off and marched across the street to Bank of America plaza.

They carried signs and chanted slogans against the “one percent.” Several demonstrators -- armed with crayons and stickers -- began pasting and scribbling slogans across the sidewalk and building pillars. One sign read: “You stole our money; we want it back.”

By the time Leah Rothschild wrote “Protect the People, Not the Banks” a few feet from the front doors, dozens of officers had swarmed in front of the bank using their bikes as shields.

Assistant Tampa Police Chief John Bennett approached and told the women and other protesters to move off the private property. As demonstrators pulled back, the officers pushed forward, maintaining their line.

“Stay behind the bikes,” Bennett repeated again and again -- calmly, but firmly.

Once the protesters left, Bennett walked past the bicycle line, repeating “good job” to the officers.

Bennett said Tampa police are trying to set boundaries for demonstrators.

“It’s finding the balance between expressive speech and ... the criminal boundaries,” he said.

A test for RNC security

Minutes after the protesters left, city workers began collecting balloons left behind and picking up dozens of black “We are the 99 percent” stickers that demonstrators had stuck on the sidewalk.

Marching away with what was left of her box of 61 crayons, Rothschild 30, of Lake Worth, Fla., said her goal is to be disruptive and annoying, but not cause permanent damage or get arrested.

“I want the Republicans to know that we’re in total opposition,” she said.

The protest was also one of the first tests for the RNC security teams, led by Tampa police. Officers met the group soon after they congregated at the park. Another team of officers on horseback arrived later.

Bike officers rolled alongside the marchers, closing streets in advance of the protesters. Police said the Salvation Army offered water to the demonstrators. Police reported no arrests.

Less than a mile away, another group of demonstrators prepped for the largest scheduled demonstration of the convention on Monday. An estimated 5,000 protesters are expected to speak out on corporate greed, immigration, reproductive rights, health care and war.

While acknowledging the expected storms may hurt turnout, the Coalition to March on the RNC promised that Monday’s march would take place.

“We will be wet, we will be angry, but we’ll still be there,” said Jared Hamil, one of the coalition’s lead organizers.

Some headed for Charlotte

Many in the group, such as Wade Fullmer, said they planned to travel to Charlotte and join the Coalition to March on Wall Street South, which will be hosting similar protests during the Democratic National Convention..

Fulmer, a retired accountant from Columbia, wore a pink vest with a hand painted slogan: “Bank of America is bad for America.”

Sara Flounders, co-director of the International Action Center, is one of the leaders of next Sunday’sMarch on Wall Street South in Charlotte.

“Charlotte... is the banking and financial center of the country after Wall Street,” she said. “That’s where the policies are set.”