Park Permit Flap Raises Specter of ’68 Chicago Convention

    Denver City Council members are considering a proposal to change the process by which groups obtain park permits during “extraordinary events” like the Democratic National Convention, conjuring up memories of similar battles over public park space during the Democratic convention in 1968.For the convention in 1968 — a historic year of protest and civil unrest across the globe — the administration of Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley worked to prevent protesters from receiving city permits because of a fear of possible riots.

    During the lead-up to the convention in Chicago, permit application processes for events either were stalled or fell apart. Negotiations between city officials and demonstrators disintegrated, leading to the violence that marred the convention. City law stating that parks were to be closed at 11 p.m. was rigidly enforced during the event, although it hadn’t been an issue in the past. Police and protesters battled for turf at the Chicago’s Lincoln Park – a location where demonstrators had sought to occupy with a permit initially — where videos captured some of the best-known historical images of city police beating and clubbing bystanders and demonstrators. Many police actions in other parks and public spaces throughout the city implemented the same tactics at the time.

    As Denver prepares for the DNC in August, protest organizers are already raising concerns over park space and the city’s plan to revamp the permit application process for an event like the convention. The new proposal would give traditional recurring events consideration over other applicants for parks and public space permits. Demonstrators have voiced concern that a long-standing city street fair, the Taste of Colorado, would bogart the city’s Civic Center Park throughout the convention, which coincides with the time when the fair takes place each year. A compromise between the two groups has been discussed, but nothing is for certain.

    Another issue that city representatives and protest organizers have argued about is the lack of space for visiting demonstrators. Before being redrafted, the city’s proposal had a provision that would have allowed individuals to camp on public space with a proper permit. In a public hearing on the issue Tuesday, demonstrators argued that the City Council would create a hostile environment if camping were not allowed, stating that hotels in the metro area are already booked for the convention.

    It is not known at this time what the policies will be like in the security parameter set up around the convention, as city ordinances do not apply to the area. In June, protesters urged the City Council to issue a proclamation to respect the civil liberties of protesters during the convention. The declaration was later killed because council members could not come to an agreement.

    Public parks played an significant role during the convention riots and beatings of 1968, and Denver officials are currently working with the Colorado American Civil Liberties Union and other groups to see that civil rights are not violated during the convention.

    Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at

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