By Joellen Perry
Monday, July 31
For the second day in a row, GOP convention protesters and Philadelphia police maintained an uneasy truce, averting the mass arrests and violence that characterized the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle last March. What might have happened Mondaywhen supporters of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union marched down one of Philadelphia's main arterieswas anyone's guess. KWRU Executive Director Cheri Honkala says she expected, at each step, to be arrested. Philadelphia cops held daily late-night conference calls with Honkala last week, attempting to dissuade her from leading the unpermitted march down Broad Street.
In the end, a colorful contingent of thousands of shouting protesters peacefully marched down the nearly 3.5 mile-route from City Hall to as close as they could get to the First Union Center without violating convention security areas. KWRU had hoped to reach the center itself, to present the assembled GOP-ers with a copy of the United Nations-endorsed Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document that guarantees all citizens with, among other things, living wages and universal health care. "People in Kensington and around the country are being forced to choose between eating and paying the water bill. They have the right not to live that way," said Brian Wisneiwski, 28, a KWRU security official who was once homeless.
Police were deciding "block by block" how much longer to allow the march to continue, says Philadelphia police officer Adrienne Mitchell. Once the throng reached the barricade at Hartraft and Broad streetsmetal bars and a barrage of police officers made passage impossiblecops directed the marchers toward Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park, one of the city's prescribed protest zones. "We got in front of the First Union [convention] Center. And believe me, because we did, people inside and around the world are going to hear that this happened in this city today," said Honkala.
There was a tense hour or two when protesterssome from a local chapter of Direct Action, the group that spearheaded many of Seattle's civil disobedience incidentsrefused to move. In response, police cordoned off the street and brought in cavalry officers on horseback, backed by a cadre of empty busses (presumably to cart off arrested protesters) to stand a city block from the scene of the sit-in. The protesters eventually dispersed, without incident.
At FDR park, exhausted marchers mingled with their colleagues, danced in peace circles, and chatted with reporters. A chain-link fence-and a wall of police in blue-separated the protesters from the First Union Center across the street. "Sure, I'm happy we didn't get arrested," said one demonstrator who asked to remain anonymous. "But where are we? We're on the other side of the freaking fence!" Added protester Jerome McLemore of Camden: "They should have had a representative from that compound come out here like a man, and talk to us about our issues, about homelessness and poverty."