Activists, by the 1,000s, Seeking Permits to March in Philly During DNC

The first protest permit has been granted; others are pending, including several in support of Bernie Sanders

On the day that thousands of Democratic delegates from every state and territory of America get off planes and check into their hotels in Philadelphia this summer, thousands more will already be rallying in Center City as part of an anti-fracking and clean energy coalition.

The first sights and sounds of the Democratic National Convention will come from 5,000 activists marching on Market Street from City Hall to Independence Mall the afternoon of July 24, a day before the convention kicks off.

That’s how many people a group called Food & Water Watch has told the city to expect for their “March for Clean Energy Revolution.”

The group is the first to receive approval by the city of Philadelphia to demonstrate during the DNC week, the mayor’s office said this week. Eight other requests have been submitted, with one given a preliminary denial and seven others still pending.

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Some groups seeking permits are planning large-scale rallies or marches, either in Center City or South Philadelphia, where more than 4,000 delegates will gather July 25-28 at the Wells Fargo Center to nominate the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate. More permit applications may come in the weeks ahead. Groups can submit applications up to five days before planned events.

The rallies and marches add another layer of security concerns to an event the Department of Homeland Security has put in the same class as Pope Francis’ visit last September. The designation of National Special Security Event came with $43 million in federal funds to help offset the local cost of law enforcement, but the city doesn’t believe the DNC will be on the same scale of the pope visit, which shut down most of Center City.

“It's a much, much smaller event than the Pope, akin to the Navy-Army football game in terms of the influx of people and dignitaries,” Mayor Jim Kenney’s spokeswoman, Lauren Hitt, said. “You'll feel the excitement in Center City, but the bulk of activity will be in the Wells Fargo (Center) area.”

Less formal rallies and marches are trying to gather steam on social media, and convention officials are also expecting “Black Lives Matter” protests during the week, including at the convention site in South Philadelphia.

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Besides the thousands of delegates, thousands more are also coming to the city for the week, including most of the biggest political figures in the Democratic Party.

The permit applications give an early glimpse into what visitors and city residents alike can expect during the week.

The Food & Water Watch demonstration will begin around noon, July 24, at City Hall, and those gathered will then march down Market Street to Independence Mall, according to Sam Bernhardt, the group’s senior Pennsylvania organizer.

“We expect to have 5,000,” Bernhardt said of activists from around the country who are part of “a growing revolution for clean energy.”

“Hey, we hope to have 10,000,” he added.

So far, the lone group denied initial approval of a “permit for assemblage,” is locally-based Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, which also marched at the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. Its lead organizer said the group plans to go ahead with its march and rally on the opening day of the convention July 25 -- whether or not it receives approval. The group applied for a permit to march the length of South Broad Street from City Hall to FDR Park.

“The last time we marched, in 2000 at the RNC, we had about 10,000,” said Cheri Honkala. “We had buses come in from all over the country.”

Other permit applications include: Equality Coalition for Bernie Sanders’ “March on the DNC 2016, Global Zero’s “Race to Zero,” Black Men for Bernie’s “We the People Restoration Rally,” and a public art installation by two Brooklyn, N.Y., artists Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese called “The American Dream Project.”

Three other “March for Bernie” permits submitted did not include sponsoring organizations, according to the mayor’s office.

The National Park Service, which oversees security at Independence Mall, reportedly received at least one permit for a demonstration at the national park site at Sixth and Market streets the week of the DNC.

The city received $43 million to fund its security measures, including $9 million in police overtime, due to the convention being designated a National Special Security Event.

Like the pope's visit, the U.S. Secret Service will be the lead agency coordinating security during the event. The Secret Service did not return messages for comment.

“We're working with state and federal officials (including Secret Service) to make the event a successful one both for visitors and Philadelphians,” Hitt said. “These preparations have been underway for many months and we look forward to a great event.”

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