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Outside convention, protesters make their case against GOP agenda

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TAMPA, Fla. – Edwina Vogan came thousands of miles to be at the Republican National Convention, but the Phoenix resident was here for an entirely different reason than the delegates inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Vogan, wearing a homemade costume shaped to look like a woman’s genitals, was outside the convention to protest the Republican Party’s position on women’s rights.

“Women should have a right to choice and the Republican agenda is saying, ‘No, we’ll take care of you,’” Vogan said. “That’s a pretty scary agenda.”

She joined Code Pink and other pro-choice protestors at the Women are Watching rally organized a few miles from the convention Wednesday by the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

It was one of a steady flow of protests around the convention site that drew hundreds over the course of the week, protesting everything from women’s rights to voting rights and economic policies. They covered the political spectrum, from liberals to tea partiers who held their own rallies earlier in the week.

Some protesters even set up a makeshift camp for the week, known as “Romneyville.”

But if the goal was to get the message of protest to the crowds inside the convention hall, authorities were on hand to make sure that didn’t happen.

The area around the Tampa Bay Times Forum and the adjacent Tampa Convention Center, the two buildings hosting the convention events, resembles a military compound. Security officials in khaki-colored uniforms patrol on foot, bicycles and horses.

Tall black gates, cement barriers and even dump trucks block streets, controlling the flow of people coming in and out of security checkpoints.

Kristin Middleton, the youngest Arizona delegate at the convention, said she has not encountered any protesters. And she’s fine with the security.

“I would rather have more security than less,” she said.

About two miles from the convention, hundreds of men and women, many in varying shades of pink, gathered at a riverfront park Wednesday for the Women are Watching rally. Some sat in the outdoor amphitheater while other found shade under trees, including one that had matching pink flowers blooming from its top branches.

At the heart of the protest was a round stage where a band, made up mostly of women, played to the crowd in the humid afternoon air. Later, a woman dressed as a birth control pill box led people through chants that affirmed their cause was here to stay.

Though several minutes of heavy rain briefly disrupted the festivities, protesters stayed on, ducking under cover or throwing on ponchos and cheering when the rain stopped and the event resumed.

Vogan said a little bad weather was not enough to keep her from voicing opposition to what she sees as overly restrictive abortion laws passed by Arizona legislators.

“I wouldn’t trust anyone who seemingly says he’s going to protect women’s rights but yet at the same time is willing to take them away,” she said. “Women have rights and we should have some say over our own bodies.”

Jane Gibbons, president of the South Tampa Democrats, held a sign that said “Get your Mitts out of my pants,” a reference to newly nominated Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Gibbons, a registered nurse, said she believes abortion choice should be a private matter, “a decision between the woman and God.”

Delegates inside the hall took issue with the protesters charge that the GOP. Middleton, the Arizona delegate, said she believes the Republican Party offers women more rights because it offers them better economic opportunities.

“The other party is making it harder for them to support their families,” she said of Democratic policies and women.

Another Arizona delegate, Laura Knaperek, said women are multifaceted and the Republican Party understands that.

“The most important part of a woman’s life is to have choices,” she said.

Vogan said Arizonans who could not join the protests in Tampa should seize another opportunity to demonstrate their opposition.

“They should use the ballot,” she said.