ACLU of Florida at the RNC – August 28: The Calm Before the Storm

Baylor Johnson
Online Advocacy Coordinator, ACLU of Florida

Today was my first full day in Tampa for the Republican National Convention, but the time I spent with other ACLU staff distributing our First Amendment Toolkit to coalition groups and organizing volunteers was hardly the first day that I or the rest of the ACLU of Florida has been working on the RNC. In the past year, we’ve had forums with city and police officials and First Amendment experts (note: by watching video of the First Amendment Forum, Google and Youtube will put a permanent cookie on your computer), we’ve developed resources for protesters – we’ve worked hard to make sure that everyone’s rights are respected and protected during the convention. This weekend  marks the transition from that year-long preparation phase to the work of promoting and celebrating free speech on the streets of Tampa.

ACLU of Florida resource center vehicle at the RNCYesterday, just before the roads around the arena were closed for the week, our staff placed a rented vehicle full of ACLU materials and “Know Your Rights” resources at a spot along the official parade route to serve as our resource center inside the event zone.

Our spot, just four blocks from the arena, puts us right in the middle of where many protests will take place, so we can serve as a convenient resource for people seeking information about their rights as protesters, what some of the limitations are on protests during the RNC and what to do if stopped by police throughout the week.

For now though, we wait. Tropical storm Isaac has thrown a curveball at everyone whose work involves the RNC, from the convention planners, to city officials, to protest groups and organizations like the ACLU of Florida who work to protect their rights. The first day of the official convention schedule has been reduced to a quick pro forma meeting, and some of the other events planned for Monday around the convention have been cancelled or postponed.

So after spending our day with one eye on our preparations and one eye on the weather reports, we’ve made the decision to cancel volunteer activities tomorrow, August 28th, for safety and practicality reasons.

But that doesn’t mean we aren’t still busy. ACLU of Florida Field Coordinator Nikki Fisher and I are spending our evening contacting volunteers, while others are distributing our First Amendment Toolkit at events in Tampa and St. Pete, including at a big rally at Tropicana Field. And our board president, Mike Pheneger, worked with one group today to secure their permit to do a major art installation in downtown Tampa. And tomorrow we will all

Tomorrow, Isaac will have its impact on Tampa, and on Tuesday, the protests and the convention ramp back up to their previously-expected intensity. And so today, as we prepare for the intensity of the coming days, we’re both literally and figuratively in the calm before the storm.

(Note: Images or descriptions of protests during the Republican National Convention do not represent an ACLU of Florida endorsement of the individual, organization or message. The ACLU of Florida is in Tampa to promote the First Amendment rights of all groups.)

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