August 28, 2012

Send In The Clowns, RNC, Tampa, Florida

Clownbloq. Jubilant clown protesters bent on de-escalation. Their attire tends toward the militaristic, emulating the militarization of our police forces. But both militaristic and non-violent at the same time. Their armaments might have included feather dusters, but due to new, RNC-related regulations, they were not able to carry water pistols. In Tampa, in honor of the Republican National Convention (RNC), we were treated to the Clandestine Clown Counterterrorism Unit, the CCCU.

I arrived early to watch the clownbloq army assemble. First came the medics. There were four of them. Four of them! Did they expect so many casualties? Two of the medics were from the Boston area and two had catapulted across the country from Portland, Oregon. One was a real nurse, when she wasn't attending to the wounded during the RNC. The rest would not let on as to their medical credentials. They chatted about the dry-sock-dispersal campaign. Evidently, as a result of recent rains here, the biggest medical problem facing out-of-town protesters was trench foot. As if to give a stomp of approval to trench foot, the skies opened up and rained for about five minutes as we waited for the rest of the clowns to arrive. Once trench foot is treated, the prudent thing to do is to don a pair of clean, dry, new socks. Thus the dry-sock-dispersal campaign.

I was already reaping the health benefits of better medical knowledge, as the clowns dribbled in. Other than the two clown trainers, not one participant had any prior clowning or theatrical experience. But, I was soon chuckling right and left as the group warmed up. Laughter is powerful medicine. And the clowns-to-be were aiming to use laughter as a powerful tactical weapon. Nathan Pim, of the Autonomous Playhouse, showed everyone how to protect the police from the many non-violent protesters who would be rallying and marching against voter suppression later in the afternoon. They carefully picked out entertaining outfits so that everyone would be in awe of their exquisite clown fashion sense. During these short training exercises, a real police unit entered the park. Evidently, it takes eight officers to subdue one young man who was about to pull a bandana up over his face. Yes, indeed, this went against the fancy, new, RNC-related regulations. Call me paranoid, but how did they even know? When I entered the park, I had noticed a helicopter overhead, which I dutifully videotaped. I'm fairly sure that helicopter surveillance technology has not reached the point of clairvoyance, but who am I to say? Thankfully there were no clown arrests and the group continued with warm-ups, which were quickly followed by lunch - another healthy aspect of this clownbloq.

Many of these clowns were members of Food Not Bombs, a group with many chapters around the world devoted to recovering and sharing free vegan or vegetarian food with the public. We were meeting in Herman Massey Park, a park originally used by Tampa Food Not Bombs to feed folks. In order to curtail such activities, the City of Tampa closed down the park, cleaned it up, and erected a lock-able fence around the park. In the tradition of Food Not Bombs, a hearty and well-spiced meal was served.

After lunch, and a long walk in the general direction of the Rally Against Voter Suppression, we arrived at Centennial Park. Even without signs or a map, we knew we had arrived at the right spot, when we spotted the platoon of bicycle-wielding officers lining the edge of the park. I was pleased to see that the protesters outnumbered the police. Given the possibility of a hurricane, many protesters may have prematurely decided to stay home. This might have left the thousands of out-of-town police with nothing to do, but severely outnumber the protesters. Thankfully, my fears were not born out. A larger-than-life Romney puppet toured the grounds. Following some good speakers and performers, Charles McKenzie gave a rousing speech and we once again found ourselves on the march. It was great fun following the clowns' antics as they mixed with the crowd and protected the police through the neighborhood of Ybor City.

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