Republican Convention Faces Protest and Internal Dissent

Sep 1, 2012

By Brendan Conley, staff writer – September 1, 2012

Mitt Romney accepted the Republican Party’s nomination for President of the United States this week in Tampa, Florida, amid protest and criticism, as well as dissent within his own party.

In the Streets

Hundreds of protesters gathered in the streets throughout the week to decry the agenda of the Republican National Convention, though their numbers were diminished by stormy weather caused by nearby Hurricane Isaac.

“We are determined to speak out against the Republican agenda,” said Mick Kelly, a Minneapolis labor organizer. “We are going to speak out regardless of the weather.”

Republican Party officials canceled most of Monday’s events as a precaution due to the approaching storm, so protesters marched to a nearly empty convention hall.

The protesters represented a variety of political causes: labor unions, immigrant rights groups, environmental organizations and advocates of women’s rights. Throughout the week, rallies and protest marches were held by the AFL-CIO, Code Pink, supporters of Planned Parenthood and union workers. [1]

A common theme in the protests was what was described as an economic attack on the middle class, through tax cuts for the wealthy and cuts to social services.

“We have a very rich country filled with very poor people,” said James Ingall, a union member from Gainesville, Florida. “A Republican victory in November would be a giant step backward for this country.”

Though united in their opposition to the Republican Party, the protesters were not necessarily Democratic voters.

“To hell with the corporate-dominated parties,” said Cheri Honkala, founder of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign and the Green Party’s vice-presidential candidate. “Both parties don’t give a damn about us.”

Even third-party electoral politics was too mainstream for some protesters.

“We are opposed to imperialism itself,” said Omali Yeshitela, leader of Tampa Bay’s ubiquitous Uhuru movement, an African-American radical socialist group. “Both parties are born of a system based on genocide.”

Protesters marching on Monday afternoon were met at every turn by ranks of khaki-clad police officers from multiple jurisdictions. However, relations between police and protesters were cordial.

“We are the 99 percent,” chanted the marchers. One protester told a police officer, “And so are you. We’re on the same side, brother.”

Protesters had camped out at a site they named “Romneyville,” and when police learned they were running low on provisions, they delivered more than 100 boxed lunches, astonishing the hungry protesters. [2]

In the Convention Hall

While the street protests were sometimes chaotic, the scene inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum was also not as carefully scripted as Republican officials would have liked. Candidate Mitt Romney delivered his acceptance speech in his usual manner, which is sometimes described as “polished,” sometimes as “wooden.” Other speakers caused controversy.

Although Romney was the presumptive nominee, some supporters of Ron Paul, the libertarian icon, reminded their fellow delegates that democracy is sometimes messy. The Republican National Committee unseated 10 Maine delegates who were pledged to Paul, saying that there had been irregularities in the process. The Maine delegates shouted in protest and then walked out of the convention hall, staging a small demonstration of their own in the hallway.

“We didn’t think it’d be this disingenuous,” said Cody Morgan of Exeter, Maine, according to the Tampa Bay Times. [3]

Paul supporters gathered at their own Ron Paul Festival in Tampa during the convention. Many of the libertarian attendees said that because Paul had not won the Republican nomination, they would vote for the Libertarian Party candidate, Gary Johnson.

Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech was intended to be the centerpiece of the convention, but more attention was paid to two other speakers.

Clint Eastwood made a surprise appearance, but his star power was diminished by his long, rambling speech, in which he addressed an empty chair intended to represent President Obama. Eastwood’s strange performance had late-night comedians riffing on “Invisible Obama” and Republican organizers cringing and shaking their heads. [4]

Vice-Presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s speech received even more criticism, but for a different reason: its factual inaccuracies and misleading statements. The Washington Post called Ryan’s talk “breathtakingly dishonest.” [5]

Ryan told a story about a GM plant in his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin.

“A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant,” said Ryan. “Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said, ‘I believe that if our government is here to support you … this plant will be here for another hundred years.’ That’s what he said in 2008.”

“Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year,” said Ryan. “It is locked up and empty to this day.”

Ryan said that this was an example of how “the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight.” However, the plant he referred to closed in June of 2008, months before Obama was elected.

Ryan also referred to the the Simpson-Bowles bipartisan debt commission. According to Ryan, “They came back with an urgent report. [Obama] thanked them, sent them on their way, and then did exactly nothing.”

Ryan did not mention that he served on the commission, and voted against the report.

The Campaign

With the Romney/Ryan ticket now confirmed and President Obama’s acceptance of the Democratic nomination a certainty, the Presidential campaign begins in earnest. Already, swing states have been deluged with campaign ads, many of them funded by Super PACs. The Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission legalized unlimited spending by corporations and unions, and more than $200 million has been spent on the 2012 election so far. [6]

Another factor that is sure to play a role in the Presidential race is the wave of voter ID laws and purges of the voter rolls conducted in several key swing states under Republican leadership. Proponents of the laws claim that they are necessary to prevent voter fraud, while critics point out that the policies disproportionately affect ethnic minorities and the poor.

Whether the election of one of the most powerful people in the world is decided on substantive issues rather than rhetoric and strategy, remains to be seen.