RNC protesters go back to court over march route

Ramping up for the march
Members of the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War show off a banner. The group is coordinating a Sept. 1 march that will take 50,000 protesters from the state Capitol to the Xcel Energy Center, the site of the RNC convention.
MPR Photo/Laura Yuen

The Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War imagines a moving horde of 50,000 pedestrians marching from the Capitol to the Xcel Energy Center, the site of the GOP convention.

So does the city of St. Paul. But the two sides don't agree on how the marchers will get to the Xcel.

The coalition prefers charting a course along the high-profile John Ireland and Kellogg boulevards. Protesters say those streets are wide enough to accommodate their large numbers. They also say the two corridors guarantee a captive audience to hear their message.

But the city has issued the group a permit that takes the protesters down the much narrower Cedar and Seventh streets. St. Paul Police spokesman Tom Walsh says that route will be much safer for delegates and the protesters.

"Simply, you're going to have traffic moving somewhere," Walsh said. "Are you going to intertwine these people with buses? Are you going to intertwine them with moving cars? I think you're going to find this is a better location.

"What we need to do is strike the delicate balance of access and security, and I think we've done that," Walsh said. "In recent history, no one has provided the access that we are now."

Protest attire
A coalition member sports a T-shirt made for the anti-war warch.
MPR Photo/Laura Yuen

But coalition members say that route isn't large enough to accommodate the many groups that will be marching. They're asking a federal judge to require the city to grant the marchers the route they want.

Coalition member Deb Konechne of St. Paul says her group is worried its message won't reach the convention-goers.

"We're talking about true visibility. We're talking about having access to the delegates and to the convention for a length of time," Konechne said. "The route that we mapped out is the route that does that. It brings us down Kellogg. We get to see the Xcel, they see us, for a long period of time. It takes us in around the Xcel; it takes us in front of the Xcel. They cannot miss our message. But the route and the time the city has mapped out for us does not allow our message to be heard at all."

The parade will be held Sept. 1, the first day of the four-day convention.

The permit requires the marchers to begin at noon; clear the East Fifth Street area and by 2 p.m.; and return to the Capitol by 4 p.m. Walsh, of the police department, said the city did not know when the delegates were expected to arrive at the Xcel.

The group hopes a judge will hold a hearing on the matter by the end of the month.

Despite the big crowds expected for the event, they still probably won't compare to the numbers that turned out for a march at the last national GOP convention in New York. Organizers of the 2004 march estimated that about 400,000 protesters swarmed the streets of Manhattan, demanding that President Bush be turned out of office.