Welcome to Camp Romneyville

Sun’s out, and Camp Romneyville is drying out. It’s been a soggy week in the mulched parking lot next to the almost prehistoric Army Navy Surplus Market on Tampa Street, a landmark that’s been in business since long before they put in the I-275 freeway nearby.

A smattering of cops on bikes circle in an adjacent paved lot. A few protesters and campers sit on a curb in the shade of a live oak. There’ve been marches from here, but at the moment everything has ground to a halt. A few more people were here at the beginning of the week, despite the rain and wind.


(Dave Martin/AP)

“This is needed to provide some democracy within the police state they’ve created here,” said Amos Miers, 35, one of the activists keeping an eye on things and making sure the protesters and police maintain their so-far pacific relationship. He's a graphic designer who lives in Tampa. He trained as an architect but has seen the profession hit hard times with the economic downturn. His house is under foreclosure, he said. Now he's with a group called Resist RNC. It’s in alliance, he said, with the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign.

A couple of months ago, the activists signed a contract with the Army Surplus store’s owner to use the parking lot as a camp. Now there are a couple dozen tents, plus two old school buses with a tarp stretched between them. One bus is a kitchen, the other a radio broadcast studio. There are portable toilets and ice machines.

Occasionally the police “test” the protesters, Miers said. They will attempt to walk onto the camp, and the protesters will tell the authorities that it’s private property.

“They want to see how we operate. They want to see who our leaders are,” Miers said. But there have been no serious clashes, he said.

“The whole point is to maintain discipline and order so we can get the message out. We want mainstream America to envision themselves in the movement.”

The Army Navy surplus store opened as usual at 10 a.m. It’s crammed with gear of every imaginable variety. It’s biker heaven. The man behind the counter is Nick Potamitis. How does he feel about the protesters in his lot?

“I made a mistake. Supposed to be two tents. And there’s a hundred. I don’t like ‘em,” he said. “Nothing I can do. I already signed a contract with them.”

Is he a Republican or a Democrat?

“I am communist,” he said. Then bust out into a laugh. Just kidding. He shows no interest in talking politics.

He’s owned the place, he says, for 38 years, but it’s been in operation for something like 85.

He says, “You want to buy it? I sell it to you.”

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."
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