How To Protest At The DNC: Here’s What You Can & Cannot Do In Philadelphia This Week
I’m not going to lie: I was majorly fucking surprised that there were no major clashes between protestors, police, and Republican National Convention delegates in Cleveland last week. I take it as a sign that more progressive and liberal protestors considered the RNC to be too fucking crazy (and dangerous) to even attend. But the Democratic National Convention is a whole different story — even its location in the Northeast means that it’s easier for people to attend, so that just means bigger crowds. There are some things that DNC protestors need to know about Philadelphia laws and protesting protocol to keep things calm — and to literally stay alive — so they get their message across instead of everything just turning to horse shit in front of Independence Hall.
Over the weekend, it made me happy to see that Philadelphia was already full of Green Party protestors, anti-fracking advocates, and Bernie Sanders supporters railing against the DNC. Even just the individual, ol’ fashioned, lunatics ranting in front of City Hall about capitalism (those guys are just there all the time though) make me feel all patriotic inside. But it also makes me nervous. Call me a Debbie Downer but given recent gun violence across the country, Philly’s reputation for getting rowdy, the fact that all of the bars have extended hours until 4 AM, and the heightened tensions surrounding just about fucking every major issue this election year, I’m crossing my fingers for the best.
Here are a few things to know so you make it out in one piece.
There Are Certain Places You Can Protest
There are certain places the some 50,000 people Philadelphia expects during the DNC to protest. The biggest area is FDR park in South Philly, across from the Wells Fargo Center’s parking lots. There will be first aid stations and bathrooms and all of that good stuff to take care of protestors. Other areas that have been approved for protests are much farther away (like the other side of town) such as Marconi Plaza, Independence Mall, the plazas outside City Hall and the Municipal Service Building, and Broad Street and Market Street for marches.
You don’t have to have a permit if you want to gather a group in any of these places, but the city has politely asked that groups apply (which means if you don’t, who knows what to expect). If you gather a group and start (legally!) burning the American flag, say, out front of the Art Museum (not approved for protests) you will be confronted by police, who are going to be extra on-edge. It’s sad to say, but it’s probably better to save yourself the time and trouble and find a protest you can join that’s already been sanctioned. I know, it sucks.
Know When You’re Protesting, And When You’re Being A Dick
There are lots of intricacies when it comes to protesting, but to keep things peaceful (because that’s what we all want, right? Let’s just say yes.) it’s best to know when you’re actually wrong and cops can arrest you. First of all, there’s nothing in the Constitution that says blocking people from their lives or impeding traffic or civil disobedience in general is your right. Yes, that’s a bit limiting.
Also — because laws vary in different places — in Philadelphia, drugs and weapons in your pockets are illegal. Philly cops can stop and frisk you if they want, and although you can make it clear that you don’t consent to it, you cannot physically stop them. Gross, right? But that’s life. There’s also a ban on some pretty obvious things like ammo and drones, and less obvious things like vaporizers inside the actual convention hall. So, just let people check your bag and leave your knives, weed, and drones at home. (I know, I know, “if there aren’t weed and drones at the revolution, I’m not coming,” but seriously they’ll just take that shit from you and probably arrest you, at best.)
But You Probably Won’t Be Arrested (Hopefully)
If you get stopped for not having a permit and the police give you more shit than you think you deserve and you start fighting, or you’re walking around naked, drinking alcohol in public (both illegal in the city) or any other small-ish thing, you probably won’t be arrested. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney just signed a bill that forces cops to issue a ticket and a fine instead of booking you, because Philadelphia is a goddamn mess already and they didn’t want to get “Draconian” during the DNC.
Good idea, Mr. Mayor! “We want people to understand coming into the city that we are not a lock-’em-up city,” he said. Of course, if a police officer is engaging with you, you have the right to ask them if you are being detained, for a lawyer, and all of that good stuff. Oh, and remember to carry ID, because if you are arrested, the judge can deny bail if you don’t have one on you. But that’s just the golden rule of sticking it to the man. Like, I won’t insult you by thinking you didn’t already know that.
One last thing DNC attendees and protestors, remember this: Philly is the City of Brotherly Love, but they are also the city that used to bring crowbars to baseball games. You’re blocking some major thoroughfares in a very small city for an entire fucking week and no one is going to be happy about it come Thursday. Be nice to (and tip) the locals.