A move by Denver City Council members to pass an ordinance changing the process used by groups to obtain public park permits has spawned a free speech debate aimed at the upcoming Democratic National Convention.At a city council public hearing on Tuesday, demonstrators planning to protest the DNC voiced concern that the current draft of the legislation would set permit provisions for “extraordinary events” like the DNC, when many permit requests are expected to be turned in.
The new proposal would also give recurring historical events like the Taste of Colorado consideration over other applicants.
Mark Cohen, a member of the organizing committee for Recreate 68, the coalition of activist groups in the Denver metro area that will be demonstrating against the convention, said that parks in the city must be open for camping.
“Those people need to go somewhere,” Cohen said, noting that many hotels are already booked for the convention.
A previous draft of the legislation had contained a provision that would have allowed permitted camping, but it was later deleted.
Although talk of the Democratic convention dominated the public hearing on the proposed permitting changes, the city’s legal counsel, Assistant City Attorney David Broadwell, denied that the proposed legislation was crafted to specifically address the convention.
“A host of people have been working on this for the past couple of months,” Broadwell said, stating that the city wanted better “coordinating mechanisms” for the park permitting process, although the convention “was certainly a motivation.”
Tamara Door, president and CEO of the Downtown Denver Partnership, a nonprofit organization composed of businesses groups with a mission to develop downtown Denver, also made an appearance to support the proposed ordinance change, saying that it gave support “to those events who have been there historically.”
Another Recreate 68 organizer, Glenn Spagnuolo, argued in front of council members that protests have always followed conventions, and “that has a lot longer of a historical use.” He also accused city council members of creating a “hostile environment” because of the slashed camping provision in the proposal.
In June, Recreate 68 members urged the Denver City Council to issue a proclamation to respect the civil liberties of protesters during the convention. The proposal was later killed because council members could not come to an agreement.
Council representative Paul Lopez (Dist. 3), who has a history with labor groups, asked what would happen in the case of a “labor dispute” and a “spontaneous protest.”
Broadwell responded that he didn’t know, because the city ordinance will not have leverage in the security parameter set up around the convention, which may mean that protesters will not be allowed near the event.
The city is continuing to work with the Colorado American Civil Liberties Union and other groups to further draft the legislation. The city council will vote on the proposal at a later date.
Disclosure: In 2004, Erin Rosa was one of more than 200 individuals arrested while confronting the Columbus Day Parade in Denver. While certain members of Recreate 68 may have also been arrested at the same event, they did not participate in the production of this article. Rosa’s charges were later dismissed by a Denver judge.