Update: July 22, 11 a.m.
The Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia will be a magnet for protests. These political conventions always are. Philadelphia is preparing for tens of thousands of protesters, and activists are pursuing more opportunities to get their messages out.
Last month, for instance, Mayor Jim Kenney signed a bill decriminalizing protest-type offenses like disorderly conduct. Meanwhile, the ACLU is pushing back against what it considers attempts by the city to stifle free speech by not approving certain protest permits.
Here’s a rundown of everything we know so far about protesting as it pertains to the DNC:
38 requests for protests have been made, 27 have been approved
[table id=DNCProtest /]
The FDR Park zone
The biggest approved protests for the DNC will be in FDR Park, which is west of the parking lots outside Wells Fargo Center. Activists have criticized being mostly relegated to a place so far from Center City and barely within view of the Wells Fargo Center’s front door. It’s common for cities with similar events to create these “free speech zones,” and the ACLU and other advocacy groups oppose them.
Thursday, the city released a map of how FDR Park will be set up for the protests. There are six designated zones, and road closures throughout the area, including Pattinson Avenue from Seventh to 20th streets.
Protesters are not allowed to spend the night in FDR Park. The latest they can stay is 10 p.m.
No more Broad Street limitations and the settled lawsuit
Broad Street has long been a favorite location for protests and rallies, from decades ago to the Black Lives Matter and Fight for 15 marches of recent years. But the city was at first limiting activity on this street during the DNC.
Lauren Hitt, Mayor Jim Kenney’s communications director, told Billy Penn last week there was no sweeping ban on marching on Broad Street outside of Center City. She said protests on Broad Street would be banned during rush hour, from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. The ACLU has claimed the city has been unclear with its Broad Street policies and argued it doesn’t intend to grant any permits for Broad Street marches.
The ACLU filed a lawsuit against Philadelphia for refusing to grant a permit for a Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign march. The group’s request to march down Broad Street was denied in May. The same thing happened in 2000, and Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign marched anyway.
On July 1, the city announced it would settle the lawsuit and allow the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign to march.
“We had a sense that even if we didn’t permit during rush hour, there would be people who demonstrated in Center City anyway, so better to encourage them to get a permit,” Hitt told the Inquirer. “That way, we can still better manage demonstrations that are permitted, and minimize disruptions to surrounding businesses and residents if we know they’re coming.”
Why Philly will be feeling the Bern
As you likely noticed above, six of the eight approved rallies center on supporting Bernie Sanders or, in the case of Black Men for Bernie, at least have a connection.
Sanders supporter Billy Taylor has secured four week-long permits for DNC Park (sections one through four on the above map) and is expected to hold Sanders rallies with turnout expected at 30,000, according to the city. Some Sanders groups expect the number of Bernie supporters who descend on DNC to be far larger. Sanders’ campaign has been coordinating with Taylor, and Sanders may hold a traditional rally in FDR Park.
On top of all that, a group called DC to DNC is organizing a 10-day march from Washington D.C. to the Wells Fargo Center in support of Sanders. For a convention that’s about awarding the nomination to Hillary Clinton, there’s going to be plenty of Bernie flavor.
The city changed its mind regarding Holmesburg prison. This facility, which has been closed since 1995, was used to house arrested protesters in 2000, and that was originally the city’s plan for this year. But one week after Billy Penn first reported the prison would be used if needed, the city announced it would not be housing any arrested protesters there.
Kenney’s bill that could lead to fewer protester arrests
The mayor signed a bill this week decriminalizing nuisance offenses such as disorderly conduct. If followed properly, police would issue fines rather than arrest protesters.
Attorney Larry Krasner was heavily involved in working with protesters during 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. Back then, more than 400 people were arrested. He said he’s skeptical of the new bill, which makes similar promises of not arresting people.
“Having heard them say they won’t arrest people last time,” said Krasner, “and having them say it now, ‘show me.’”