The ACLU of Pennsylvania’s executive director said free speech rights are especially vital during political conventions: ‘It is vital to our democracy that there be every opportunity for public participation in that national conversation.’
PHILADELPHIA — The ACLU of Pennsylvania is suing the City of Philadelphia after anti-poverty activists were denied the right to protest during next month’s Democratic National Convention.
The NGO is suing on behalf of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign. The interracial, intergenerational movement to end poverty is led by activist Cheri Honkala, who served as Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s running mate in the 2012 presidential election.
“We are filing the lawsuit today because the last thing that poor people have is their voice, and we can’t allow our voice to be taken away,” Honkala said in a press release issued on Thursday.
Cheri Honkala and ACLU announce lawsuit against city for denying permit to protest during DNC. pic.twitter.com/kW8iK8TwZj
— Julia Terruso (@JuliaTerruso) June 23, 2016
“The two largest obstacles to ending poverty are that poor people have been made invisible in this country, and the American people have been sold the politics of scarcity. The only way to combat these two things is for the American people to see and hear from the people on the front lines themselves.”
“The Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign hopes to march from City Hall to a park near the convention site in South Philadelphia on opening day July 25,” noted NBC10 Philadelphia.
The ACLU’s suit claims the city has an “unwritten ban” on protests during rush hour, but has made exceptions for other events in the past. The ACLU of Pennsylvania’s press release notes:
“[A]ccording to the complaint, the city routinely authorizes extended street closures on Center City streets during this time on weekdays, as evidenced by a list on the city’s own events webpage. This spring, the city has closed Center City streets during so-called rush hour for victory parades, block parties, and restaurant events.”
The complaint further argues that giving access to other groups while denying protest groups is a violation of the First Amendment.
Cities hosting political conventions for the two major parties have become increasingly hostile to activism. Riot cops and restricted “free speech zones” have become the norm since the Republican National Convention of 2000, which was also held in Philadelphia. Perhaps signaling a new direction, the city recently abandoned plans to buy an armored police vehicle and promised to rely more on bicycle cops.
According to Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, free speech rights are especially vital during the election season.
“Political conventions are a time when the nation’s attention is focused on the problems facing our country,” he said in the press release. “It is vital to our democracy that there be every opportunity for public participation in that national conversation.”
Honkala invoked civil rights struggles of the past as she renewed her demand for a march permit.
“We are outraged that we have been denied our rights to march. Dr. Martin Luther King said it best in the sixties but it applies to today — ‘the greatness of America is the right to protest for rights.’”
Watch “ACLU, Anti-Poverty Activists Sue Philly Over DNC Rush-Hour Protest” from NBC10 Philadelphia: