Street protests are usually some of the most interesting parts of the national nonventions of both political parties in the U.S., but the tropical storm Isaac that was officially proclaimed a category one hurricane on Tuesday not only caused the delay of the Republican Convention, but also shrank the number of protesters.
Nevertheless, "Occupy" movement activists, "Code pink" pacifists descended on Tampa, as did representatives of the leftist J Street lobby who hope to provide an alternative take on the foreign policy issues on the margins of the convention. Soon, these activists will be joined by a group of young Jews making their way through several states on a tour called "If I Were a Rich Man."
J Street however distanced itself from the rest of the activists. "They weren't lurking around the protest barriers with the likes of code pink," said a spokesperson. "Rather, they went down there to hold a number of meetings and to talk up the long-standing bipartisan consensus in support of a two-state resolution, the groundwork for which was laid by George HW Bush and first publicly affirmed by his son."
Ellie Axe, 33-year-old team leader and veteran grassroots organizer from Boston, told Haaretz that the the participants, including a rabbi, came together to convey the message to politicians and the public that the Bush era tax cuts for those making more than $250,000 annually should expire.
The group set out on their tour on August 22, protesting in front of three Congressmen's offices in Southern California, and then going on to Texas, where U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant’s office workers called the Irving police on Tuesday after they staged a protest in front of the building. Their next stop is the convention in Tampa.
"Our message is tax fairness," Axe said. "To make sure people who are making over a quarter million dollars are paying their fair share. These congressmen have supported continuing tax cuts for the rich. And we feel everybody in this country needs to contribute to social services."
Referring to their experience in Texas, Axe said, "Rep. Kenny Marchant's staffers, instead of engaging in dialogue called for the cops. It seems to us that constituents from his office care about this issue - we asked people to honk if they support our message - and many did. It's a pity they decided not to deal with it directly. We were standing outside of his office and getting really great responses from passersby. We had a big piece of paper, asking people to write why they would raise taxes - and they wrote because they care about schools, because they want deficit reduced."
For the group, the Convention is another way to stress their message. "We intend to join the groups protesting outside, we intend to engage people in a dialogue, we are interested in raising awareness and making tax fairness part of the conversation about what it means that the top 2 percent are not paying their fair share in taxes."
Making the journey to the Republican Convention is less about targeting politicians, and more about making their voices heard, according to Axe. "This tour is less about the political candidates in the presidential elections, although Romney's policies are definitely a concern to us - it's very important for us to hold both parties accountable and make sure it remains the topic. Conventions are an important event - to see parties coming together, to see what messages are demonstrated. For us it's a way to raise our voices," she said.