Protesting the DNC: Activists Detained, Cited Outside Wells Fargo Center

Editor’s note:’s Brian X. McCrone is following along with a group of protesters with activist organization, Democracy Spring. They have lived in a "movement house" in the Mantua neighborhood since early July planning actions for the Democratic National Convention. This is their story on day one.

10:50 p.m. Monday

Police revision: 54 people cited. Breakdown: 32 men and 22 women.

6:45 p.m. Monday

Police reported 55 people were cited for Disorderly Conduct. Thirty-two men and 23 women. City Council passed legislation in June to keep peaceful protesters from being criminally charged. Police instead can issue $50 civil fines for disorderly conduct. That way, the city avoids a repeat of the 2000 RNC where 400 protesters were charged. Ultimately, most of those cases ended in acquittals.

5:30 p.m. Monday

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the AT&T Station near the Wells Fargo Center, facing off with dozens of bike cops. A few protesters were then taken into custody after they jumped a fence that was erected moments earlier.

A loud throng of demonstrators remained, loudly chanting, "Hell no, DNC, we won't vote for Hillary!"

One of the few demonstrators restrained and taken away, reluctantly by a Philadelphia Police force that used bicycles as a blockade, was Kai Newkirk, a leader of Democracy Spring. Newkirk was taken into custody within seconds after jumping the fence. For more than half an hour, members of Democracy Spring tried to break through the bike blockade. But the group, which had told each other all day to use non-violent tactics, could not break the police line.

So far 18 protesters in all have been taken into custody.

Hundreds more protesters continued to stream down South Broad Street with thousands gathered in the six-lane thoroughfare around 5:30 p.m. Nearby, in FDR Park, thousands more are expected to spend the evening in sweltering heat.

3:45 p.m. Monday

Members of Democracy Spring marched down Broad from Marconi. They plan on staging a large sit-in, blocking an entrance to the Wells Fargo Center near the AT&T station.

2 p.m. Monday
Mary Zeiser touched up a 30-foot long sign that read in blue spray paint "DEMOCRACY SPRING," with the sun beating down on her thin frame. 

As an art director for the protest group that seeks to eradicate the influence of wealthy donors and corporate interests in politics, she has spent the last two weeks at a row house in the West Philadelphia section of Mantua with more than a dozen other activists from across the country. 

Zeiser, 27, has traveled the country for the last four years as a protester. She recounted getting "the bug" for activism during a march against an oil company in Richmond, California. 

"I got the bug (after) my first civil disobedience," Zeiser said, sweating through her tee shirt. "I'm obligated to fight. It's my duty to do this." 

One of her three arrests in four years was in the U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 21, 2015. She was there as part of a group called 99Rise, which is the group Democracy Spring originated from. 

"I remember staring at the justices, standing up after everyone sat down," Zeiser said. "I looked into Ruth (Bader-)Ginsberg's eyes. I shouted, 'I rise on behalf of Democracy!' I had my hands in the air and remember a guard putting his hand on his gun. I thought, 'If my blood spills on this court floor, I thought, 'F---yeah.' Three guard were on me. Body slammed me on that floor." 

On the way to a protest at Marconi Plaza that was set to start at 2 p.m., Zeiser said as she drove in one of the group's vehicles, "I feel like I'm going to be arrested today, without even seeking it. Just a feeling."

Brian X. McCrone
Outside the West Philly Movement house for Democracy Spring activist group during DNC.

Protest planning begins early with coffee and cereal and laptops on Brandywine Street in West Philadelphia.

Sara Jacqz worked at 8:30 a.m. on the front-room floor of the row house where 20 people are living this week, inhabiting a base of operations for a huge group called Democracy Spring.

Jacqz, 21, got involved at the prompting of her twin brother, Henry, who is also staying in the house, but she said her protesting ways began at college.

“I've been organizing since I got to (the University of Massachusetts at) Amherst, mostly around climate justice,” she said. “But so many issues lead back to this one, democracy justice. The people know what they need. If that voice was heard, we’d have so many more solutions.”

These protesters, mostly in their 20s, some in their 30s, are the lead organizers for some 600 activists who “have pledged to risk arrest” during the Democratic National Convention.

Democracy Spring’s goal: Raise awareness of the corruption and stagnation money brings to politics and government. Several in the movement house talk of their part in a massive sit-in on the steps of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. in April. More than 1,200 people were arrested.

Planning in Monday morning will eventually lead to protests in the afternoon. Everyone sits on small organizing groups. They've warned each other of the need for water on a day with expected heat feeling like 109 degrees.

They sang homespun songs, then rated how they felt before an initial 9:30 meeting.

"I'm feeling like I'm on the right side of history,” Brendan Orsinger said. "And I'm on the right side of history." 

Then protest planning was in full swing.

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