Philly denied DNC protest permit to ‘hide’ poverty, activists claim

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Sam Newhouse

A group of anti-poverty activists are crying foul after their application to stage a protest on Broad Street during the Democratic National Convention this summer was denied.

Cheri Honkala, leader of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC), said she believes the city doesn’t want her group to expose the city’s struggles with poverty and homelessness as national attention is on Philadelphia for the convention this July.

“This is basically cosmetics,” Honkala said. “This is ‘let’s sweep up and hide poor homeless people prior to the Democratic National Convention, let’s pretend like we’re doing a good job providing the basic necessities of life for people who don’t have these things.'”

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Honkala led a similar protest at the Republican National Convention in 2000 — without a permit — and said the denial of her application won’t affect her plans to hold a March for our Lives protest at 3 p.m. on July 25 south of City Hall.

“We’re not going to go hide under a bench, we’re not going to disappear, we’re going to be here, and if they’re ashamed of poverty, hunger and homelessness, they can handle those issues,” she said. “Permit or no permit, we’re marching.”

Mayor Jim Kenney’s spokeswoman Lauren Hitt confirmed the application was denied.

“They requested to demonstrate on property that is already being used for another event. To accommodate their route, we would also have had to shut down South Broad Street during evening rush hour,” Hitt said in an email.

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Honkala provided a copy of a letter from the Office of the Managing Director’s Office of Special Events which stated Honkala’s demonstration is denied because it would interfere with vehicular and pedestrian traffic in the area, and because it conflicts with another event or ceremony scheduled for the same time.

“We do not have recommended alternatives to propose,” the letter stated. “However, we welcome the submission of a revised application by your organization.”

Honkala dismissed the offer of another application.

“That’s a game,” she said, adding that they had contacted the organizers of the other event on the same day: “We know this space is available at that time.”

But Hitt suggested the PPEHRC consider that offer.

“They were told in their denial that they could resubmit their request with an alternative route and staging location, and we hope they do,” Hitt wrote. “Demonstrations are an important part of every convention and we try to be as accommodating as possible to demonstrators.”

Numerous groups are planning to protest the DNC. Food and Water Watch, which applied for a permit on behalf of Americans Against Fracking, is the only group so far to have had their permit application approved. Seven other permit applications are currently pending, according to the city.

Honkala, who has held anti-poverty protests around Philadelphia since the ‘90s, criticized Mayor Kenney’s initiative announced Monday targeting four hotspots where the homeless congregate with social services and assistance as “appalling.”

“The city is not wanting to talk about the fact that right now, we can walk around City Hall and there’s homeless people sleeping outside,”she said. “They’re going to spend $43 million on security for the DNC. Could they spend that on housing?”