Stories written by Jo Ciavaglia, award-winning multimedia newspaper reporter at the Bucks County Courier Times in Bucks County, a suburb of Philadelphia, Pa.
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Monday, August 8, 2016
Getting their message out: Protesters plan a variety of demonstrations
July 25, 2016
Flowers not fists.
That's the tactic Susan Briton-Seyler plans to use during the Democratic National Convention, when both the temperature and tempers are expected to rise as thousands of protesters are anticipated to flood Philadelphia streets to bring attention to issues ranging from oppression, inequality, corruption, violence, climate change and the war on drugs.
Briton-Seyler, 66, a Chester County resident and Quaker, is leading one of the many protest groups that plan to rally in support of former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders. But her organization — Bernie Peacekeepers — will not count itself among the dozens planning negative and disruptive public demonstrations.
Instead, this group will try to calm tempers, not inflame them. Briton-Seyler said the group will use positive words and actions — such as passing out balloons, candy kisses and roses to protesters and police — to spread Sanders’ message of nonviolence, compassion, justice and inclusion.
“We want the world to see a huge peaceful gathering that reflects both Bernie Sanders' ethics and his platform,” she added.
To that end, the roughly 300 people who have signed on as volunteer “peacekeepers” pledge to keep their protesting positive, according to Briton-Seyler. Acts of civil disobedience are forbidden. Hateful speech, images or actions will not be tolerated. The group plans to hold daily training sessions for interested individuals throughout the convention.
Dozens of other grassroots groups are planning public demonstrations during the four-day convention.
At least 60 events are scheduled to take place throughout the city starting this Sunday, according to a review of websites, including the National Park Service, City of Philadelphia and the DNC Action Committee, a Philadelphia coalition assisting organizers and visitors who are planning to take action around or protest during the DNC. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney's office estimates as many as 50,000 people will participate in those events.
Four events are advocating for the legalization of cannabis.
Middletown resident Marguerite Chandler was among the estimated 10,0000 marchers who participated in the March for Clean Energy Revolution, a one-mile trek in 97 degree heat from City Hall to Independence Mall. She was among roughly 35 Bucks County residents participating, including 10 like her with the Newtown Friends Meeting, she said.
A newer resident of Pennsylvania, Chandler said she was inspired to participate in the pre-DNC convention protest - one of five Sunday - because of her concern about the health and future of the state and the world. She pointed out that the technology exists to transition to clean energy systems, but the will to do it is lacking in Washington.
Sunday's sweltering heat provided an ideal backgroup for the group, whose organizers including the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Chandler said.
"It was a real demonstration of global warming. Everyone was appreciative of water," she said. "People were peaceful. They were energized."
So far, city officials have issued demonstration permits to 19 different groups for protests throughout Center City and South Philadelphia near the Wells Fargo Center, where the convention is being held. Most of the groups with permits are planning marches and rallies in support of Sanders. His supporters snagged four of the six permits issued for the sanctioned “Protest Zone” in FDR Park, about a half-mile from the Wells Fargo Center.
Four more groups have permits pending, including Trump for PA, which wants to hold all-day rallies for GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump throughout the convention.
The controversial ultra-conservative Westboro Baptist Church plans two, one-hour demonstrations at FDR park Tuesday and Wednesday, according to city's permit website. The Kansas-based church known for picketing soldiers’ funerals and denouncing homosexuals also plans to picket Tuesday outside the Mazzoni Center, a Center City health care provider serving the LGBT community. In response, the LGBT supporters have organized a counter-protest billed as the "Great Wall of Love" with people acting as human shields to protect patients.
Some organizations have billed their marches or rallies as peaceful affairs. At least one group — “Let’s Make Sure the DNC Feels the Bern” — which plans to march from the Liberty Bell to the Wells Fargo Center Monday afternoon is urging participants to “do your best to get arrested without being violent.”
“Trespass, block traffic, walk up to a cop and ask him to arrest you, etc. Do not resist arrest. We need arrests, tens of thousands of them,” the Facebook event post said. As of Thursday afternoon, 156 individuals indicated they planned to attend.
How many arrests police will make remains a big question after the city last month decriminalized certain nuisance violations associated with protesting in an attempt to avoid a repeat of the 2000 RNC convention, when more than 400 protesters were arrested, but most were eventually acquitted. Police now have an option to issue a civil summary citation instead of arresting individuals for actions such as blocking a highway, trespassing, disorderly conduct or failure to disperse.
If Cleveland’s Republican National Convention is an indicator, the predicted tens of thousands of DNC protesters could fall far short of expectations.
Media outlets covering the RNC reported far fewer protesters than city officials and convention organizers expected. Police made 23 arrests during the first three days of the convention.
Most of the arrests made during the RNC were on Wednesday: A small group of protesters attempted to burn an American flag outside the security barrier surrounding the convention, according to news reports. Police intervened, and a fight broke out between police and protesters. Police said two officers were assaulted. Eighteen people were arrested.
Before Wednesday's confrontation, media outlets reported that police outnumbered protesters at some demonstrations.
Human rights observers from Amnesty International USA who were in Cleveland to monitor and document demonstrations and protect protesters' rights found mostly peaceful protests and police who largely protected the rights of demonstrators, Eric Ferrero, Amnesty International USA's deputy executive director for strategic communications and digital initiatives, reported Thursday. Observers also noted a “heavy” law enforcement presence with police sometimes outnumbering protesters, Ferrero said.
“The observers continue to gather and analyze information about several situations (in Cleveland), including two dispersal orders and a number of arrests. The team is also compiling its records on some of the entrance or exit routes to protests,” Ferrero said.
Amnesty International will send letters outlining its findings to local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and policymakers. The observers will include positive aspects of how police protected people's rights to protest, as well as problematic or questionable aspects, Ferrero said.
The RNC was the first time in its history that Amnesty International has dispatched observers to an American political convention, Ferrero said. The dozen monitors also will attend and observe demonstrations — and share findings in real time via social media — during the Democratic National Convention. The multinational human rights organization typically deploys monitors to document elections, transitions of power and public unrest in countries around the globe where there is civil war or autocrats.
Early research from a group of Penn State University students attending the RNC for a project on modern political demonstrationsalso found the number of demonstrators attending events the first day of the convention was far lower than anticipated. Instead of turnouts of 5,000 to 15,000, Cleveland protest event sizes ranged from about 200 to 600 people, according to political science professor Lee Ann Banaszak, who is leading the research team.
The student researchers found that racism, political corruption and Trump as the Republican’s presidential nominee are the top issues that brought protesters to the Cleveland convention. Early results found racism and racial inequality were the most often mentioned issues among protesters interviewed, though the individuals surveyed were “slightly less diverse” than the average American population with fewer numbers of Latino and black minority groups, Banaszak said.
Students spoke with 111 participants at three events on the opening day of the Republican convention, and nearly three-quarters agreed to be interviewed for the project, Banaszak said. The group plans to continue its research at the Democratic convention.