Protesters Arrive in Drips, Not Droves

Posted August 25, 2008 at 7:45pm

Street-long fences, thousands of officers and a secluded demonstration area at the Democratic National Convention convinced protesters Monday to take their marches and rallies to more public locations.

For months, protesters and city officials have estimated that thousands and perhaps tens of thousands of protesters would show up at the Pepsi Center, ready to bring their messages to the delegates and media at the convention. But on Monday, Denver Police officers were left to stare at a virtually empty demonstration area and monitor a few small, peaceful marches.

Protesters attributed the low turnout to amped-up security, where fences closed off surrounding streets and credentials were checked at several checkpoints.

A few groups showed up to the demonstration area to protest its location, but they stayed only minutes after talking among themselves and the handful of reporters who showed up.

The anti-war group CODEPINK staged a small rally in the afternoon, dressed in their signature pink outfits and posing on top of the jersey barriers scattered throughout the area. Several got lost finding what they call the “freedom cage.”

The group has no plans to return to its designated spot, CODEPINK spokeswoman Jean Stevens said.

“No one can hear us, no one can see us, there’s no water, no bathroom,” she said, later adding: “We just think it’s out of character. This is the DNC, the Democratic Party, Barack Obama. Why would they allow this to happen?”

At the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, protesters were also kept behind a chain-link fence. The area at the Republican National Convention in New York was more restrictive, located under a railroad track and topped with barbed wire. But protesters were still able to walk close to the convention at Madison Square Garden.

This year, the Pepsi Center is surrounded by a security perimeter, making it hard for anyone without credentials to get close. The demonstration area, at Auraria Parkway and Seventh Street — less than a block from the media entrance — is enclosed with a double layer of heavy metal fences. Though city officials say that delegates will enter nearby, no such entrance was visible Monday and the nearest convention attendees and media appeared too far away to hear or even notice the area.

Secret Service spokesman Malcolm Wiley said delegates would be within “sight and sound” of the area, but he wouldn’t say where they would enter because of security concerns.

“It allows the folks who are willing to or looking to express their opinion to do that. It gives them an opportunity to be heard,” he said. “If you want folks to hear your message, I would think you would use the area for it.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado and a dozen protest groups filed a lawsuit against the city earlier this year, arguing that the demonstration area was too far away from the Pepsi Center and delegates. But this month a federal judge ruled that the plans were sufficient and legal.

On Monday, protesters pointed out that only the back of the media tent faced the demonstration area, and reporters couldn’t access the area without exiting convention security and walking about 15 minutes around the block.

“We’re being treated by the city of Denver like political prisoners,” said Mark Cohen, co-founder of the local Recreate 68, which opposes the two-party system. “There’s absolutely no chance the delegates would see us here.”

So protesters took their messages to the streets and parks of downtown Denver. Still, police made few arrests, and while city officials had predicted thousands of people, only groups of a few hundred were scattered throughout the city.

CODEPINK had a run-in with police at the Unconventional Women Roundtable at the Denver Performing Arts Center. Officers escorted some of the group’s members out of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) speech after several unfurled signs and yelled for Pelosi and President Bush’s impeachment, according to CODEPINK.

Officers first threatened members with arrest, co-founder Jodie Evans said. But when the group started peacefully singing their anti-war songs, officers stepped back and some took pictures and leaflets, she said.

A spokesman for Denver’s Joint Information Center said they didn’t know about the incident, and the Denver Police officials did not return calls by press time.