Anti-poverty group sues over rush-hour ban on DNC protest

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Anti-poverty activists sued Philadelphia on Thursday, seeking the right to demonstrate during rush hour as the Democratic National Convention opens next month.

The Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign plans to march during rush hour from City Hall to a park near the convention site on opening day, July 25. Its application was rejected by the city in May, citing interference with traffic and conflicts with another event, according to the suit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the group.

The city has said it won’t grant permits during rush hour in Center City during the convention.

The lawsuit seeks to have a judge declare those timing bans unconstitutional, and to grant the poverty group’s permit.

“We think this is an unnecessarily over-broad and unconstitutional restriction on the use of streets, which have always been a place for people to express themselves,” said Mary Catherine Roper, the ACLU’s deputy legal director in Pennsylvania. “We’re not saying it might not be an inconvenience.”

The city said it has no comment until its law department reviews the suit.

The city has in the past granted exceptions for rush-hour parades and other public, the suit contends.

“We are thrilled that we are finally going to court,” lead organizer Cheri Honkala said.

She said her group’s message is that poverty is a crucial issue in Philadelphia, and she wants to march during the prime visibility of rush hour.

“The most important thing poor people have are our voices,” she said. “Shutting off our voice is not an option.”

The lawsuit said the group of about 500 protesters would start to march at 3 p.m. down Broad Street, Philadelphia’s major north-south artery that runs past City Hall to the sports complex are, about 7 miles away where the convention is to be held. It contends the group would be out of the main congestion of Center City by 4 p.m.

Honkala said her group marched the same route in 2000 during the Republican National Convention, also held in Philadelphia.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio sued Cleveland earlier this month on behalf of a homeless organization and two groups planning marches during the Republican National Convention, alleging the city’s rules for protests violate free speech rights.

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