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City sets route for protesters at DNC

Critics say the path won’t get them close enough to convention attendees

By Steve Harrison, Cleve Wootson and Jim Morrill
sharrison@charlotteobserver.com

A city-designated protest route for the Democratic National Convention will allow marchers to come within two blocks of the Time Warner Cable Arena, the main convention site.

But it will steer clear of Bank of America Stadium, where President Barack Obama is scheduled to speak Sept. 6, and some critics say it won’t let protesters get close enough to delegates so their message can be heard.

The city of Charlotte on Monday announced the official protest/parade route, which will close a 1.2-mile route of Charlotte streets from an organizing area at Pearl Street Park south of Interstate 277 to Marshall Park.

The DNC will likely attract thousands of protestors who will be jockeying to have delegates and journalists hear their message. The city believes most people will protest peacefully, though police are bracing for some violence, as happened at the recent NATO conference in Chicago and past political conventions.

The parade route, the city said, balances the rights of people to exercise their First Amendment rights, but also other needs, such as convention security and the need to keep uptown streets open to traffic.

City officials have also said the parade route and a “free-speech zone,” or “speaker’s platform,” won’t be the only places for people to congregate and protest. All city sidewalks – except those closed for security reasons – will be open for people to picket.

In a news release Monday, the city said the route will give marchers a “view” of the arena and Bank of America Stadium.

Some protesters don’t like the route, however.

Debra Sweet, director of the New York-based group World Can’t Wait, said the route may take marchers within site of the arena, but gives little chance for convention-goers to see protesters or hear their message.

“It’s not whether marchers can see the arena, it’s whether people in the venue can have the potential to see and hear the protests,” said Sweet, who has organized protests at several previous conventions. “…It is clearly an exercise in saying, ‘Look we’re giving you a chance. We’re giving you something.’ ”

Yen Acala, a member of Occupy Charlotte and an organizer with the Coalition to March on Wall Street South, said the city “squeezed the ability of people to mobilize.”

City Attorney Bob Hagemann said the city has studied past legal opinions in terms of how close protestors must be allowed for events like political conventions.

“I’m confident there is no legally established standard as to how close you need to go,” he said.

The designated route will pass directly by some buildings housing DNC delegates or events, such as the NASCAR Hall of Fame, the Blake Hotel and the Hilton Garden Inn and Hampton Inn hotels.

Chicago protests

The city may have mapped out a designated protest route, but it’s unclear if anyone will follow it.

Last month, the Observer sent reporters to Chicago to observe how that city and its police department handled the thousands of protesters who attended the NATO summit. Charlotte-Mecklenburg police sent a contingent of officers to help police the protesters and several CMPD leaders observed the police response and talked with planners.

There were several planned protests, including a gathering in Grant Park that drew thousands and ended in a mostly peaceful march down Michigan Avenue. Many businesses along the way reported significant declines in business but little damage from protesters.

But several protests were relatively impromptu, often organized by text messages and tweets.

The protesters played games of cat-and-mouse with authorities, as Chicago police officers clad in riot gear and riding bikes tried to keep them away from dignitaries, tourists and traffic.

On a day when police arrested several suspected anarchists accused of plotting to set off bombs at key locations, including the mayor’s house, demonstrators gathered to protest the incarcerations.

The protest started with a few dozen people, but the number of protesters quickly swelled into the thousands. Complicating things, the demonstrators opted to march down the streets of Chicago’s central business district.

Lottery for protests

In Charlotte, the city plans to issue permits for the parade route and the speaker’s platform through a lottery system, which Hagemann said will be random and “show no favoritism.”

The city began accepting applications Monday at DNCinfo.charlottenc.gov. Applications will be accepted through June 27.

The lottery will be held 2 p.m. July 2. It will cover permits for Sept. 4-6, the official three days of the DNC.

Up to six marches a day will leave every 40 minutes between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., the city said.

Thirty-minute slots at the speaker’s platform will be available between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. Up to 20 speakers per day will be granted time slots.

The city doesn’t know yet where the free speech zone or speaker’s platform will be located.

Acala, of Occupy Charlotte, said his group will discuss whether it will participate in the lottery. “Do we want to legitimize this system by putting our name in a hat?” he said.

The city granted a permit for the March on Wall Street South to protest on Sunday, Sept. 2. That group’s protest route is different than the official DNC route unveiled Monday, and will allow the group to march on College Street, near Bank of America’s corporate headquarters.

The city said Monday the group was granted a different route because its march won’t be during the official DNC, and will take place on a weekend, when few people are working uptown.

Harrison: 704-358-5160
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