Wed September 5, 2012
Protesters On Day 1 Of DNC Test Police, City
The first official day of the DNC also brought the first test of the city's designated "free speech" opportunities. It also proved the first test of CMPD's ability to handle protesters unwilling to stick to the city's script.
None of the six groups who signed up to use the city's official DNC march route bothered to show up yesterday.
Oh well, said the city's DNC permit official Emily Cantrell.
"I mean our main objective was to be prepared and offer this opportunity for groups or individuals," says Cantrell. "And now it's up to them to take advantage of it."
It's hardly a surprise that no one's much interested in marching on the city's designated route. It skirts the southern edge of uptown, out of sight from convention activities.
In addition to the parade route, the city's also set up a microphone for people to speak their mind during the DNC. It's on a platform in a dirt-lot overlooking the freeway.
Steve Widdows of Iron Station, North Carolina had the first slot at the speaker's platform, competing to be heard above the din of traffic and police helicopters circling overhead.
"The Democrats are doing wicked! Evil!" yelled Widdows, to an empty field.
The city was required by the DNC to offer a "free speech zone" as it's called. "Free speech cage" is what activists call it - and it is surrounded by a tall red metal fence.
Asheville Vietnam Veteran John Penley organized the first major test of the city's willingness to allow protest speech beyond its pre-approved routes and zones during the DNC.
"This is I think one of the most important marches we'll do at this convention," said Penley to about 200 people gathering in Marshall Park.
Around noon yesterday, they marched behind Penley, who held a large American flag upside down.
"Free Bradley Manning, arrest Barack Obama!" they chanted, calling for the release of U.S. soldier Bradley Manning who is accused of supplying secret military documents to Wikileaks.
They also decried the use of remote-controlled drones in the Middle East: "Give Obama prison time! Drone strikes are war crimes!"
Police let them march up Third Street and down Caldwell Street on portions that were already closed to traffic, but when the marchers got to Stonewall, they came up against a barricade of officers three rows deep.
Officers in the front row used their bikes to keep the crowd back.
Once protesters realized the police are not budging, several dozen - including disabled Vietnam Veteran Ed Hunt - just sat down in the intersection.
"I think it sucks," said Hunt. "I gave up my leg so everybody can have their first amendment right. Why do we have to go to cage for free speech?"
The march ringleader, John Penley tried to push through the police barricade and got arrested. He'd turn out to be the only arrest of this march.
Police completely surrounded and far-outnumber the protesters in the intersection, but make no move to arrest them for impeding traffic. CMPD Chief Rodney Monroe arrived on the scene.
"We're just assessing what they're looking to do right now," said Monroe. "We're not in any rush to do anything just yet. We're just in a holding pattern."
The standoff in the intersection lasted two and a half hours before Chief Monroe told they'd be allowed through the barricade if they agree to march on the sidewalk.
Anyone who steps off has been told they'll be arrested.
Half a block further on, the protesters begin to pass in front of convention delegates.
"All you doing is making noise!" yells a female delegate, angry at the chants to "Arrest Barack Obama."
Police use their bikes to keep the protesters on the sidewalk, but let them go straight up Tryon Street. They've been demonstrating for three hours in the heat and occasional downpour, but Occupy Charlotte member Jason Dow is energized.
"I wanted to be where there's the most people at, you know?" explains Dow. "That's what it's about is getting our voice heard."
It took them just about all afternoon, but the protesters finally got exactly what they wanted: to march in front of people who could hear them.
Which is why, when they got to the edge of Uptown, instead of taking right and heading back to the park where they started, they opted to cross the street and march straight down Tryon on the other side.
Police Arrest 10 At 'No Papers, No Fear' Rally
The largest group of DNC arrests happened Tuesday evening when ten people affiliated with the "No Papers No Fear" immigration movement sat down in the intersection of 5th and College Street and refused to move. It was a planned act of civil disobedience meant to draw attention to the struggles of undocumented youth living in the U.S.
Earlier in the day about 200 protesters blocked an intersection at Caldwell Street when police refused to let them march any further on Stonewall Street. For two and a half hours, the demonstrators waited in peaceful protest until police allowed them to continue, but remain on the sidewalk. The group walked the length of Tryon St. and back chanting for the release of U.S. soldier Bradley Manning, who is accused of supplying secret military documents to Wikileaks. Police made just one arrest during that march.