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Despite Tropical Storm Isaac and Massive Security, Activists Plan Protest March Outside RNC in Tampa

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Even as Tropical Storm Isaac bears down on the Gulf Coast, hundreds are expected to protest this morning in Tampa against the Republican National Convention. Today’s official RNC events were canceled due to the storm. But organizers from the Coalition to March on the RNC spent the night encasing their picket signs in plastic. Thousands of law enforcement officers from the local police and sheriff departments, as well as the National Guard, are patrolling the streets near the RNC in an area being called the Green Zone. We’re joined by two guests helping to organize protests in Tampa: Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODEPINK and author of the new book, “Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control,” and Tracy Molm, an activist with Students for a Democratic Society, whose mobilizing at the 2008 RNC in Minneapolis-St. Paul landed her on the FBI’s surveillance list. Agents raided Molm’s home in 2010, along with the homes of others engaged in antiwar activism critical of U.S. foreign policy. That investigation is ongoing but has not stopped her from continuing to protest. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the Christian Choir at the Tampa Theater at the Faith and Freedom celebration. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. “Breaking With Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency,” Democracy Now!’s special two-hour daily coverage from the Republican National Convention in Tampa. If your station is not broadcasting the two hours, you can go to our website at

Even as Hurricane Isaac bears down on the Gulf Coast, thousands are expected to protest this morning in Tampa against the Republican National Convention. Today’s official RNC events were canceled due to the storm, but organizers from the Coalition to March on the RNC spent the night encasing their picket signs in plastic. On Sunday, they held a press conference to announce the protests would still go forward. Representatives from local groups were still present, along with many activists who have arrived from cities like Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York. This is Joe Iosbaker, who traveled to Tampa from Chicago, spokesperson for the United National Antiwar Coalition.

JOE IOSBAKER: I understand there’s a storm coming. And you’ve already heard, we’re going to be out here marching anyway, because the storm we’re going to face here in Tampa tomorrow is nothing compared to what happens in the villages of Afghanistan and Iraq and Pakistan and Yemen and Somalia at the hands and under the missiles and the drones launched by our government. That storm has been going on now for 11 years. We’re going to march tomorrow to say no to war, to say bring all the troops home now. We’re going to tell this party, and then in a week the United National Antiwar Coalition is going to join the folks in Charlotte to tell that party, that we want all those troops home now, we want that money, the trillions dollars a year, to go for all the things that are on this banner: good jobs, healthcare, quality education, and, of course, peace and equality.

CARLOS MONTES: Hi, my name is Carlos Montes, from the Southern California Immigration Coalition. I come from Los Angeles, California, to unite with the Coalition to March on the RNC. We understand that during this current administration, we denounce the detentions and deportations, but we point out that the Republicans, the Republican National Convention, have a history of discrimination and racism, especially targeting immigrants. From California, from Arizona to Alabama, Republicans have introduced racist, anti-immigrant legislation. Arizona have been leaders in introducing S.B. 1070. Alabama, anti-immigrant legislation such as English-only. Also, Arizona, we have the anti-ethnic studies specifically target immigrants, specifically targeting Mexican, Mexican Americans. So we’re here in unity. We’re going to march, rain or shine, demanding equality and peace, and especially good jobs, healthcare and affordable public education for all, because we know that immigrants suffer in all those categories.

MC: Next up we have Sara Flounders from the International Action Center.

SARA FLOUNDERS: For all of the activists who’ve been mobilizing here in Tampa and also coming from around the country, the message is resistance to a right-wing and racist program that’s been put forth by the Republican Party but is challenged by neither party, and it really takes the movement in the streets.

AMY GOODMAN: A few of the activists with the Coalition to March on the RNC, which is expected to take place later today in Tampa, rain or shine. And it looks like there is plenty of rain. Protesters will likely encounter the same heavy police presence as those who protested Sunday, though they never reached the Tampa Bay Times Forum, which is hosting the convention. The building is barricaded off by concrete walls and barbed wire. Meanwhile, thousands of law enforcement officers from the local police and sheriff departments, as well as the National Guard, are patrolling the streets near the RNC, in an area being called the “Green Zone.”

Well, for more, we’re joined by two guests who helped to organize protests here in Tampa. Medea Benjamin is with us, co-founder of CODEPINK, author of the new book Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control. On Thursday, CODEPINK demonstrated outside defense contractor Raytheon’s production plant to denounce its role in drone warfare. Raytheon is one of many drone and weapons companies based here in Tampa, not far from MacDill Air Force Base and U.S. Central Command, or CENTCOM, and the Joint Special Operations Command for Iraq and Afghanistan.

We’re also joined by Tracy Molm, who traveled here from Minneapolis to help organize today’s march on the RNC, activist with Students for a Democratic Society, helped plan protests against the 2008 RNC, which was hosted in Minneapolis-St. Paul. That work landed her on the FBI’s surveillance list for, quote, “providing material support or resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations.” Agents raided her home in 2010, along with the homes of other engaged in antiwar activism that’s critical of U.S. foreign policy. The investigation ongoing but has not stopped her from continuing to protest.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Medea, let’s start with you. The first protest Thursday was at Raytheon. Explain. The organizers of the RNC and the authorities in Tampa say they’re not using drones to surveil what’s happening this week.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, first of all, we’re not sure about that, because everything related to drones is done in secret, so one day, yes, one day, no. But we thought it was important to start out at Raytheon, working with a local group, St. Pete’s for Peace, which has been protesting how this area is so dependent on the military, between the MacDill Air Force Base, CENTCOM here, the jobs that are surrounding that are involved in manufacture of things like drones and missiles, and to show also the connection between the money that these manufacturers put into buying congresspeople, so that the congresspeople then turn around and give the money back to the companies. You know, this is supposed to be an example of capitalism at its best, and we say these companies wouldn’t exist were it not for us, the taxpayer.

AMY GOODMAN: But drone warfare has escalated enormously under not a Republican president, but the Democratic president, President Barack Obama.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Which is precisely why we will be at the Democratic convention, as well. Both of these parties, both of their platforms call for continued war in Afghanistan. They support the drone strikes. They both are making threatening moves with relationship to Iran. So, they’re both war parties. And we think it’s important to protest both of them and to be modeling, as citizens, the kind of policies we want.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the distinction between the drones that, well, they were or weren’t using here at the convention and the drone warfare you’re talking about in places like Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, the manufacturers of drones are very worried that the war in Iraq is winding down, and they’re worried about maybe Afghanistan. They are continuing to push for the drone strikes overseas and more drone bases being set up around the world. In the meantime, they see the U.S. as the place to market their drones. They see the 18,000 police departments around this country, and they say, “We want every police department to have its own fleet of drones.” They’ve experimented with drones here in the local police department. In fact, they said it wasn’t very effective. But there are police departments, about 30 of them around the country, that are—have been given special permission. And when the FAA opens up the airspace in September of 2015, that is when we’ll see this huge influx of drones in police departments and FBI and other Homeland Security agencies around this country, unless we do something to stop it, which is why CODEPINK has been having this campaign, together with the antiwar groups, to say let’s stop the drone attacks overseas, and let’s stop the drones from spying on us here at home.

AMY GOODMAN: Tracy Molm, you’ve traveled from Minneapolis. You already have been in a lot of trouble for your antiwar activities and your protests of the Republican convention in 2008. Why continue here?

TRACY MOLM: Well, I think the reality is, they do that to scare us. They want us to stop organizing. And we—you know, we do what we do because we believe in it. I know that there’s a better world, and it doesn’t include war against Iran, it doesn’t include an occupation of Afghanistan, and it includes people standing up against those things. And I think it’s really important that, despite the ongoing investigation of the 23 subpoenaed activists, we are here to say that we—you know, we still demand an end to the occupation of Afghanistan, we still demand an end to the war in Iraq, and that we will not stand for the Republican agenda, that’s anti-women, anti-immigrant, anti-people. And so, that’s why I’m here.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the trouble you have faced for your protests in Minneapolis.

TRACY MOLM: Well, in 2010, they raided my house, along with the homes of five other people in Minneapolis, two in Chicago. And it’s directly related to our organizing of the 2008 Republican National Convention with the Coalition to March on the RNC. It was—became very clear after our raids that they had actually put a spy into the antiwar movement, that took two years to collect data on all of the work that we have been doing and our, you know, support of international—or our international solidarity work with the people of Palestine and Colombia, who are both suffering because of U.S. foreign aid, that’s going to the government of Colombia and to the Israeli government that’s directly occupying Palestine.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the level of surveillance in Minneapolis that you faced at the 2008 Republican convention and what you’re facing now.

TRACY MOLM: Yeah. Well, in 2008, it became—you know, the days prior to the protest, they shut down St. Paul, the capital of Minneapolis. And so, you know, going in and out became impossible. There were police everywhere. We would get randomly searched without any cause or reason. They had police forces all over basically watching people and randomly arresting people, gathering people up. On the first day, there were different areas of protest, and they would literally encircle groups and arrest them all together, including yourself, right?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, my colleagues and I were arrested the first day of the Republican convention. More than 40 reporters were arrested during the Republican convention.

TRACY MOLM: And they continued that basically throughout the entire time.

AMY GOODMAN: You face possible indictment now for those activities four years ago?

TRACY MOLM: It’s starting there. And basically, for two-and-a-half years, they collected data and information on the work that we did. It’s unclear, because the grand jury is all in secret, and they are only saying that they intend to indict some combination of the 23 of us. It’s unclear what exactly the charges will be.

AMY GOODMAN: ThinkProgress says if Romney became president, he would increase military spending by $2.1 trillion. President Obama has also expanded the military budget.

TRACY MOLM: Yeah, I mean, the reality is, both parties are parties of war. They have every intention of continuing the—you know, there will continue to be troops in Afghanistan, even after supposedly pulling out. There will continue to be troops in Iraq, even after we pull out. And, you know, both parties, including—you know, Obama was definitely—it’s very clear there was a part of the Obama administration that was part of targeting the Occupy movement also, as a form of political repression that’s happening currently. They’re going after anarchists on the Pacific Northwest coast, targeting them for their beliefs and trying to fight—

AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, Medea Benjamin, they’ve talked about protesters here using IEDs.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: It’s absolutely absurd. I mean, it’s part of this ridiculous scare tactic to keep people from coming here and keep the focus off what people really want to talk about, which is jobs, healthcare for all, rebuilding our economy, and instead trying to scare them about protesters.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us. Tracy Molm traveled here from Minneapolis to help organize today’s march on the RNC, with Students for a Democratic Society. And thank you so much, Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODEPINK. And that does it for the broadcast, “Breaking With Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency.” We’re doing two hours every day from the Republican and Democratic convention. If your station isn’t running both hours, you can go to our website at

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