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Coalition to March on RNC blasts parade route restrictions

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Coalition to March on RNC blasts parade route restrictions

Jun 21, 2024 | 9:45 pm ET
By Isiah Holmes
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Coalition to March on RNC blasts parade route restrictions
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Former President Donald Trump addresses the crowd during his May 1 rally in Waukesha. (Henry Redman | Wisconsin Examiner)

Milwaukee residents planning to protest outside the Republican National Convention (RNC) in July denounced the plan for parade routes and “free speech zones” announced Friday by the U.S. Secret Service. The plan adopts the requests of Republican leaders who said that a proposed protest site at Pere Marquette Park was too close to where RNC events would be held.

A parade route starting at Zeidler Union Square Park would take marchers southeast of the convention grounds. Tightly controlled “speakers platforms” had been established in the park and on the north side of the convention area, just across from the Fiserv Forum. The credentialed zone was expanded after Republicans made a last-minute rental of a venue. A group of local organizations collectively known as the Coalition to March on the RNC have denounced the city’s preparations for months. They said the latest plan suggests Republican officials can use such tactics to push the security zone out at will.

When the RNC was first announced, the coalition applied for a permit to march within sight and sound of the convention. Months passed without the permit being approved, with Republican leaders demanding the city and Secret Service push the protests as far away from the convention as possible.

Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the city for violating the free speech rights of the coalition. “We are surprised and disappointed to see how many blocks of Downtown Milwaukee the Secret Service has declared off limits to anyone but the convention attendees,” said ACLU staff attorney Tim Muth in a statement. “The large size of this zone makes it more critical than ever that the City take steps to allow for effective opportunities for expression and assembly by those with differing viewpoints.”

Both the ACLU and the Coalition to March on the RNC attempted to negotiate terms with the city. Those talks collapsed this week and the  ACLU brought its lawsuit in federal court. “We hope for a swift ruling that will vindicate the Coalition’s plan for a march that passes within sight and sound of Fiserv Forum,” said Muth. “The expansion of the credentialled zone all the way to the Milwaukee River and including Pere Marquette Park can not be justified. The expansion represents an impermissible concession to the Republican National Committee, which did not want to see or hear demonstrators near its convention.”

Many local groups have expressed the opinion that  the city is working harder to accommodate people who hate Milwaukee than city residents. Republican presidential candidate and convicted felon Donald Trump has said that Milwaukee is a “horrible city.”  For many years, state Republicans have made a point of criticizing Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s most racially diverse city. A recent Pew Research survey found that one in five Trump supporters believes that diversity weakens the country, with two in five feeling that fewer white people is bad for America.

Coalition spokesperson Omar Flores said that the city “does not know what they are doing…the city could not be trusted to organize a dinner party.” At a press conference Flores said, “it’s been absurd listening to how city officials describe us to the public and to the media …  as if we haven’t made our intentions clear. …  as if  they haven’t been hearing from us constantly in the media, and at their meetings.”

Flores added, “We have a right to be considered here in our own city. It certainly looks like a route only designed by Republicans and law enforcement.”

Responding to city officials’ assertion that Milwaukee needs to consider the whole “ecosystem” around the convention, Flores said, “When the community is left out of planning for this event, we form our own ecosystem too. One that will march with, or without a permit, wherever we please. Like Chief [Jeffrey] Norman said, ‘it wouldn’t be a protest if it didn’t bend the rules at least a little bit.’”

Flores questioned why the Secret Service originally suggested Pere Marquette Park as a free speech zone, only to change course once Republican officials complained that it was too close to the convention. “How many last-minute venues will they be renting out?” Flores asked. “What does it mean for the City of Milwaukee when the RNC has a say over what the security perimeter looks like?” Flores added, “Isn’t it insane for Republicans to say that they know better than the Secret Service? Apparently not. The precedent it sets is that if the Republicans complain enough, they will get their way.”

At a press conference Friday, the Secret Service said the park is too close to the Milwaukee County Historical Society, which is hosting official RNC events, to ensure safety, and therefore the perimeter for credentialed attendees at the convention was extended to include the park.