Group will protest DNC’s ‘freedom cage,’ organizer tells court

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

DENVER — A 50,000-square-foot demonstration zone that will have two layers of chain-link fences wrapped around it during the Democratic National Convention has been deemed the “freedom cage” by the leader of a group planning to march during the four-day event.

“We plan to go in that zone once only to protest its existence,” said Mark Cohen, co-founder and organizer of the advocacy group Recreate 68. “When the media presents images of demonstrators in the demonstration zones in relationship to the Pepsi Center, the public will see what could look like prisoners.”

Cohen’s comments came yesterday during a trial over whether the city’s designated parade routes and a demonstration zone in a Pepsi Center parking lot accommodate protesters’ free-speech rights.

Thomas Mestnik of Recreate 68, which plans at least five marches during convention week, said free speech means a group can be within sight and sound of where it wants its message to be delivered.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado and more than a dozen advocacy groups argue in the suit that the parade route and demonstration zone keep protesters from being seen or heard by delegates entering the Pepsi Center, where the convention begins Aug. 25. Denver and the Secret Service are named as defendants.

Denver’s plan would allow protesters to get as close as a parking lot on the Pepsi Center’s grounds during the first three days of the convention, and they would have to leave by 3 p.m., about the time delegates are expected to begin arriving each day.

On the stand yesterday, Denver’s deputy police chief Michael Battista said protesters could be seen and heard by delegates each day as they board buses in front of their hotels.

Cohen testified that visual images captured by the news media during the marches would not display protesters in relationship to the Pepsi Center.

“There will be no visual connection between the parade and the Pepsi Center, making it appear we would be marching with no purpose in mind,” he said.

Cohen insisted his group was committed to peaceful and nonviolent demonstrations. He said Recreate 68 was founded to invoke the grassroots movements of the 1960s that he says improved civil rights, not reenact the riots that occurred during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

Tent State University, which says ending the Iraq war would allow for better funding of education, also plans to march during the DNC. It hopes to start its march near the Pepsi Center as opposed to ending there, as the city’s route outlines, because Tent State members would like to symbolically turn their backs on the Democratic Party.

Joanna Pease of Tent State University said the party’s leaders are not listening to the youth of America.

The city has rejected the plans of Tent State members to camp out in City Park during the convention. Members will be allowed in the park during the day but must leave by the city’s regular 11 p.m. park curfew.

At the Pepsi Center, authorities also plan to build a fence to surround an area where delegates, VIPs, former presidents, and others with credentials for the convention will pass, said U.S. Secret Service agent Steven Hughes, who is overseeing security during the convention.

He said it would provide extra protection from the possibility of any explosives or objects that could be hurled over the fence.

“As delegates arrive, we want to offer them the opportunity to walk safely into the Pepsi Center,” he said. “We don’t extend our perimeter further than we believe is necessary.”

Closing arguments were expected tomorrow.

The last day of the convention will be held at Invesco Field. A hearing on a plan to keep protesters at the stadium property’s border will be held Aug. 12.

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