BOSTON - As thousands of delegates, journalists and dignitaries stream into the FleetCenter, protesters for the next few days will be enclosed in a shadowy, closed-off piece of urban streetscape just over a block away.
The maze of overhead netting, chain link fencing and razor wire couldn’t be further in comfort from the high-tech confines of the arena stage where John Kerry (news - web sites) is to accept the Democratic nomination for president during the four-day convention that kicks off Monday.
Abandoned, elevated rail lines and green girders loom over most of the official demonstration zone that slopes down to a subway station closed for the duration. To avoid hitting girders, tall protesters will have to duck at one end of the 28,000-square-foot zone. Train tracks obscure the line of sight to much of the FleetCenter. Concrete blocks were set around streets in the area, a transportation hub on the north side of downtown.
Protesters likened the site Saturday to a concentration camp as they complained it is too far from the FleetCenter to get their messages across, even though the site is next to a parking lot where many delegates will pass on foot en route to the arena.
Authorities say — and a judge agreed — the discomforts are needed for security in the post-Sept. 11 era.
On a rainy morning made darker by overhead girders, protest leaders held a news conference at the demonstration zone Saturday to object to the site. Some called it a violation of their free-speech rights. As they spoke, pools of rainwater collected on pavement.
“We don’t deserve to be put in a detention center, a concentration camp,” said Medea Benjamin of San Francisco. “It’s tragic that here in Boston, the birthplace of democracy, our First Amendment rights are being trampled on.”
Two fellow protesters from the anti-war group Code Pink, who dressed in pink Statue of Liberty garb, taped their mouths shut. Some activists said while they understand the need for security, organizers went overboard.
“We are on high, high red alert for the protection of our civil liberties,” said Claryce Evans, national coordinator for United Peace and Justice. American Civil Liberties Union (news - web sites) and National Lawyers Guild attorneys asked a federal judge to open up or move the zone.
U.S. District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock this past week called the conditions “an affront to free expression” and a “festering boil.” He refused to order changes, but is letting protesters march past the site Sunday. A coalition of protesters appealed to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (news - web sites).
Authorities said they were lowering the maximum number of protesters to 1,000, from a previous 4,000, because of concerns of overcrowding.
By THEO EMERY
Associated Press Writer
BOSTON (AP) — Protesters will be allowed to march directly past the site of the Democratic National Convention, but a federal judge refused to change a nearby protest zone, despite calling the fenced-in area “an affront to free expression.”
Judge Douglas P. Woodlock ruled Thursday on two separate lawsuits filed earlier in the week by protest groups that challenged the city’s denial of their request to march past the FleetCenter on the eve of the convention as well as the conditions of the designated demonstration zone.
Woodlock ruled that the coalition of protesters made a “very powerful argument” that there is a symbolic importance to marching directly past the convention site. They plan to march past the site on Sunday, the night before the four-day convention begins.
But he rejected arguments over the conditions of the official demonstration zone — a 28,000-square-foot area that features overhead netting, chain link fencing and razor wire — saying a post-9/11 era and increasingly violent protests required certain precautions to prevent violence.
Woodlock described the area as a “festering boil,” but refused to make any of the changes protesters sought.
“I at first thought, before taking a view (of the protest zone), that the characterization of the space being like an internment camp was litigation hyperbole,” he said. “Now I believe it’s an understatement.”
“One cannot conceive of other elements put in place to create a space that is more of an affront to the idea of free expression than the designated demonstration zone.”
Dustin Langley, a spokesman for the ANSWER coalition, one of the groups that sued over a permit to march by the FleetCenter, claimed victory.
“We were confident all along that we were going to march on Causeway Street,” he said. “We’re obviously pleased.”
Jonathan Shapiro, an attorney for the National Lawyers Guild, called the decision on the protest zone “outrageous.”
“In the same breath, the judge calls this a festering boil that is an affront to first amendment values and then at the same time said it’s OK … based upon what’s happened in other times and other places,” he said.
Ironically, the site was actually given a new restriction because of the lawsuit. After Woodlock asked city legal adviser Mary Jo Harris about capacity of the site and whether its two exits were enough, she said in court Thursday that another exit was being added, and that only 1,000 protesters would be allowed inside. The city had previously said 4,000 could enter the area.
This is so outrageous that I’m left without words, other than I was really hoping that Kerry would make it to office before I had any serious bitches. If this is the way the Democrats are treating citizens then we are truly lost.