Though Tampa braced itself for images of pepper spray and riot gear to fill the news as thousands of protesters were expected to arrive with the Republican National Convention (RNC), the city found itself with fewer protesters than most conventions.
Absent largely from many of the protests were young adults, a demographic often seen as the face of demonstrations and societal change. Police initially
anticipated 15,000 protesters to descend upon the city, but fewer than a couple thousand showed up, Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor said in a press conference a number fewer than the 4,000 police present at the Convention.
Some USF students did protest, though.
Two out of about 20 active USF College Democrats went to a Gaslight Park protest rally on the Sunday before the RNC. Seven out of about 15 active members of the USF Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) marched from Perry Harvey Sr. Park to a barricaded area across from the Tampa Bay Times Forum as part of a Coalition Against the RNC, said Anna Rehnstrom, a junior majoring in finance and a member of USF College Democrats.
Matthew Hastings, a member of SDS and a senior majoring in anthropology, protested at the Coalition Against the RNC.
While 5,000 people were expected to attend, fewer than 500 showed up last Monday, when the threat of a tropical storm cancelled the first day of the convention and USF classes.
Hastings said while he protested to show his opposition to the Republican Partys treatment of women, minorities and the working class, he understood why some USF student wouldnt come out to protest.
When we had our actions that were specifically on campus, directed at tuition hikes, we gathered a pretty decent amount of support from the campus community, he said. Things like the RNC, its a little more abstract. In the students mind, it might not directly affect them or influence them in the same way the threat of a tuition hike or a budget cut might.
Hastings said many people were still arriving to Tampa for the beginning of the school year, and he thinks RNC protests werent on students minds, at least in Tampa.
Colton Canton, president of College Democrats and a junior majoring in political science and English, said while he distributed information to members of his student organization about RNC protests, he found that he could better use his time.
I didnt go because I feel like protesting is a great way to engage in democracy, but I was focused on trying to do other things that I felt would make a difference to the outcome of the election, instead of influencing the general dialogue (and) strategy of the RNC, he said.
Canton said the Obama For America campaign started a large voter registration drive on campus, and many members of USF College Democrats worked to get a lot of incoming freshman registered during Week of Welcome.
Canton also said Tampas large police presence at the RNC may have scared away potential protesters.
While the 2008 RNC saw hundreds of protesters arrested en masse, only three protesters were arrested during the convention, one of whom was arrested for fighting with another protester, according to USA Today.
It is a somewhat volatile situation any time a large event comes into town and you have a lot of different competing groups putting on protests and expressing their voices, Canton said. So I think some people may have been wary of the possible repercussions.
Matthew Rooney, a senior majoring in history and anthropology and president of International Youth and Students for Social Equality at USF, had a different reason for not wanting to protest.
We seek to globalize and educate workers because we feel that we should have a workers state here, Rooney said. Here in the US, we have the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. Both of these are sort of tools for the capitalists to sort of operate our country and the world.
Since his political organization wants a completely different system of government, he said protesting would show that we were remaining connected to the capitalist system.
Protest politics, they dont seek to overturn and replace the existing political structure, he said.