TROUBLE IN PARADISE: Two members of Working Washington in front of the hotel they were trespassed from, seconds before more police arrived to bounce them from the immediate area.
Here's a tip: When a police officer mentions the word "trespassing" to you, it's time to get the fuck away from the situation, because you are very close to being arrested. In fact, arrests are probably the next thing on the officer's to-do list. It seems like the situation here can't be getting that serious, because it basically looks like paradise. I'm following three members of Working Washington around a Holiday Inn in Clearwater, a beautiful beach town to the west of Tampa. It could practically be the Florida Keys out here; it's sunny, the ocean is blue and gentle, tall palm trees sway over everything, and it seems like everywhere you look, you can see a pristine beach. The yellows are a bit yellower than the Caribbean, the blues not quite as crystalline, but if you were making a B-movie, you could probably pass this place off as the Bahamas with a little bit of creative camerawork.
Which is why it's a bit alarming to hear a police officer drop the t-bomb on some unassuming, well-dressed folks walking through a parking lot. But to be fair, they're planning something that the law in Tampa frowns very strenuously upon right this minute: A protest of the Washington State Republican delegation's breakfast meeting in a conference room just up some stairs from where we're all standing. They're not planning on throwing paint or mic checking or anything like that; they just want to tell their stories. They have poster-sized photographs of their kids with them to illustrate their cases. But the cop isn't having it; she immediately says they're trespassing on private property and that they have to make their way to the sidewalk, or else there'll be trouble. As in, arrests. Nobody wants to go to jail in Florida during the convention, so they make their way to the front parking lot, where their cars are. The police officer appears again to remind them that the parking lot isn't the sidewalk. They drive across the street to pose for pictures in front of the Holiday Inn, and they tell me why they're here.
LaShawna Boorman-Hamilton says she's representing the 99%, and that she's sick of Republicans "signing checks for corporate America," but not for her neighbors. She's worried for her future grandchildren. "There's no winning, even when you're trying to do right by your childen," she says. John Harris served two tours with the Army in Iraq, came back to study aeronautical science on the GI Bill, and is now in the process of training to be a commercial pilot. But the costs are astronomical, and he just can't swing them. Today, he's a waiter at an Applebee's. "It's not like I don't try" to make a better life for himself, Harris says. "I try. I try every day." but he's not able to even able to keep his head above water on what he makes at Applebee's, and he can't afford the rest of his pilot's training. If Boorman-Hamilton and Harris were to get into the delegates' breakfast, they'd have explained this to the Republicans who are supposed to represent them. If their stories were met with chants of "U!S!A!" by the Washington Republicans, they would have replied with chants of "You try living on the minimum wage."
But it turns out, in Tampa Bay during the RNC, it's even illegal for them to be across the street from the hotel they were trespassed from. Two more cops drive up and inform Working Washington that they have to go because they were trespassed from the hotel. They point out that the hotel they were trespassed from was across the street, and that they're parked in a different hotel parking lot while they talk on the sidewalk. The cop says the owners of this hotel called to complain. I don't want to call him a liar, but he's probably a liar; we've only been here for a couple minutes, and they're not especially obtrusive people. As the cops continue barely concealing their threats, a sheriff's truck drives past. It has plenty of room in the back for handcuffed people. Boorman-Hamilton and Harris and the others get the hell out of there.
It's gone on like this for the last few days here in Tampa: On Sunday, protesters were allowed. Then, yesterday, things got a little more serious. This morning there were some arrests. If there's any trouble tomorrow, I have no doubt that heads will be cracked; some of these policemen seem eager to bring home a story about breaking someone's bones. The closer we get to Romney arriving in town, the more serious law enforcement gets. But these aren't your typical protesters. In fact, they don't call themselves protesters. They're storytellers, listening to the experiences of others and telling stories about how the Republican plans have failed the average citizen. Boorman-Hamilton tells me about a young Florida woman she met last night who was turned away from the polls in the last election because "something was wrong" with her photo ID. She trusted the election official, and left, frustrated with the voting experience.
The Working Washington representatives take me to The Underground, which has been the RNC protest headquarters. It's remarkably organized in here; the space, which is ordinarily a church space in what appears to be old department store shells in Ybor City, has become a nerve center, with busloads of Democratic and union operatives arriving from all over the country. There's water, food, sign-making materials, and what appears to be a schedule of seminars. This is the organization that Occupy never had. Last night, the Underground's forces disrupted the meeting of the Republican Governors Association and led a spontaneous march that grew as it stretched down the street. Turns out that SEIU and other Democratic organizations have taken the best parts of the Occupy movement—the enthusiasm, the language—and removed the worst parts—the relentless hatred of police, the disorganization—to remake their political activism mechanism. Most of the protesters are heading home now. They've been here for three days and they don't want to wind up detained by police until the last Republican leaves town. But there are a few still around, making signs, listening to people talk, getting the word out. It looks like the Occupy movement has finally found its second stage, and it seems more effective than before.