The city of Philadelphia has abandoned its plan to block rush-hour protests during the Democratic National Convention later this month following a lawsuit by the ACLU challenging those restrictions as violating the freedom of expression.
City officials and the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s Mary Catherine Roper confirmed a settlement Friday; officials will not automatically ban protesters from marching down South Broad Street and during rush hour.
Settlement terms have not yet been filed with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, but now city officials will examine each permit application on a case-by-case basis without location or time bans.
More than two dozen groups — including an organization expecting thousands of Bernie Sanders supporters — have applied to the city for demonstration permits.
The city has designated FDR Park as a protest staging area in South Philadelphia, not far from the convention’s main stage at the Wells Fargo Center.
Roper said it didn’t make sense to limit protester mobility in Center City.
“A lot of the action is not going to be down at the Wells Fargo Center. It’s going to be in Center City,” Roper said. “That’s where the delegates are going to be, that’s where the dignitaries are going to be. That’s where the press is going to be. And that’s where people need to be heard.”
Activist Cheri Honkala’s Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign was denied a march permit denied, and she became the face of the ACLU lawsuit by taking the city to court. The city has now granted Honkala’s permit.
She hopes to shine a spotlight on homelessness in Philadelphia, hurdles to affordable health care and the burden of student loan debt.
“Freedom of speech is not up for negotiations, so that’s why we were adamant about the fact that we were going to assemble, and we are going to march up Broad Street to the Wells Fargo Center,” Honkala said.
Mayor Jim Kenney’s spokeswoman Lauren Hitt said police will not be arresting protesters for the sole reason of not having a permit, yet it’s unclear what the law enforcement response to unpermitted demonstrations will be, among other unknowns over the four-day convention.
“We still don’t know what the extent of the security zones are going to be near the Wells Fargo Center or near the Pennsylvania Convention Center when there are related meetings there,” Roper said.
In Cleveland, officials recently renegotiated protest restrictions after the ACLU brought a similar suit there, where big rallies are expected when the Republican National Convention begins July 18, a week before the DNC starts.