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City sued to allow protesters within sight and sound of RNC

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City sued to allow protesters within sight and sound of RNC

Jun 07, 2024 | 4:30 am ET
By Isiah Holmes
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City sued to allow protesters within sight and sound of RNC
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Protesters gather in Milwaukee to march on the Republican presidential debate in August 2023. (Isiah Holmes | Wisconsin Examiner)

The Coalition to March on the RNC has sued the city of Milwaukee for “violating our First Amendment rights” to protest the Republican National Convention (RNC) in July, the coalition said in a press release Thursday. “We have been clear from the beginning: we will march within sight and sound of the Fiserv Forum as it is our Constitutional right to assembly, speak, and petition.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Wisconsin filed the suit in Milwaukee on behalf of the coalition in federal court late Wednesday. 

“With less than six weeks left before the RNC, city leaders have been unwilling or unable to say whether it accepts the route proposed by the coalition and have failed to identify any permissible parade route whatsoever, contrary to claims they made previously,” the ACLU said in a press release. “Instead, they passed an ordinance that limits demonstrators to an undisclosed parade route somewhere in a 90-square block area around Fiserv Forum. Protesters have a constitutional right to demonstrate within ‘sight and sound’ of an event they’re protesting, and these additional rules will render them unseen and unheard.”

The coalition applied for its permit for a “family friendly march” more than a year ago, but it remains unapproved with just six weeks left until the convention, the coalition and the ACLU said. The coalition has been raising free speech concerns since it first submitted the application.

The coalition says that the city  has yet to provide “concrete details about the hard and soft security zones for the RNC, or about [the city’s]  approved ‘parade route.’” Coalition members have condemned a proposed speakers platform, which the city and Secret Service would have to approve, where supporters and opponents to the convention must share limited speaking slots. The coalition has also said that the city has posed prying questions to its members, including related to whether any had participated in past civil unrest. 

“When Milwaukee was announced as the location for the RNC in 2022, Mayor Johnson claimed that the decision to host the RNC was a ‘business decision’ to attract tourist dollars to Milwaukee not a political one,” the coalition stated in its press release. “However, the City has bent over backwards to accommodate the racist, reactionary Republicans while stonewalling Milwaukee community members who want to have their voices heard in protest. Even their new permitting system makes it clear that their priority is catering to the Republicans and not every day Milwaukeeans. They want to force us onto their “parade route,” not a march route or demonstration route, with no guarantee it will be anywhere near the Fiserv Forum. Additionally, this permitting system allows the City to limit our march to a timeframe they decide. On the other hand, the Republicans have all week and multiple convention centers to make their voices heard.”

The coalition said it wasn’t surprised at the city’s actions but was disappointed nevertheless. 

“We hope this lawsuit will grant us our First Amendment right to be in the streets, but no matter what the permits or the Courts say we will be marching within sight and sound of the Fiserv Forum in July. We know that the people of Milwaukee are with us, and we will not let our City become a playground for the Republicans.”

Citing “Milwaukee’s proud history of being a city of unions, immigrants, Black and brown families, and LGBTQ people,” the coalition stated, “We will not stand for the Republicans and the City of Milwaukee’s attempts to erase our diversity in the past or the present.”