Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender VOICES '96 has filed suit in United States District Court in San Diego against the Republican National Committee (RNC) and the City of San Diego seeking an injunction prohibiting the RNC and the City from moving the "free speech zone" for demonstrations during the GOP convention.
VOICES '96 is being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties. The San Diego County Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the Chicano Federation of San Diego County have joined with VOICES '96 in seeking the injunction.
In February, the San Diego Police Department announced that it had selected a parking lot at 4th Avenue and K Street, adjacent to the trolley tracks directly across from the San Diego Convention Center, as the designated site for the Special Events Area where demonstrations would be held during the Republican National Convention in San Diego, August 12 -15. The site was selected by the Police Department because it met security, logistical and constitutional criteria. The FBI and Secret Service endorsed the selected site.
The RNC has a contractual agreement with the City which allows the RNC authority to approve the security plans for the convention. In an apparent partisan political endeavor to move protests as far away as possible from the convention, the RNC proposed that the Special Events Area be relocated a third of a mile south to a parking lot on the southwest intersection of 8th Avenue and Harbor Drive.
In an attempted "compromise," the City Manager, Jack McGrory moved the "free speech zone" to a lot located at 6th Avenue and L Street. The "compromise" site is three full city blocks away from the originally designated site and is logistically inferior for staging demonstrations and rallies.
At a press conference in front of the federal courthouse June 20 announcing the lawsuit, Jordan Budd Managing Attorney of the ACLU Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties commented, "The City calls the new site a 'compromise.' The only thing that has been compromised is the First Amendment. The RNC has no right to demand that the City of San Diego offer up the constitutional rights of its citizens as the price tag for hosting the Republican National Convention."
Citing previous federal court cases that have determined that protesters must be allowed within eyesight and earshot of convention delegates, Budd noted, "The national convention of a major political party is one of the greatest moments in the political life of our nation. If the First Amendment means anything, it should mean that people may stand close enough to such an event to be seen and heard. If the First Amendment means nothing more than the right to stand hundreds of yards away on a dirt lot, unseen and irrelevant behind a line of trees, it means very little."
Speaking at the press conference LGBT VOICES '96 Co-Chair Brenda Schumacher commented, "After months of being told by the San Diego Police and the City that the 'free speech zone' would be at 4th and K, it is evident in the last minute decision to change the location that the Republican National Committee does not want voices of dissent at its front door. It is unconscionable that the Republican Party would have any say whatsoever as to where the convention protesters will demonstrate. This is clearly a move by the City of San Diego to placate the Republican National Committee by negotiating away our constitutional rights."
"This 'compromise' site at 6th and Harbor is riddled with problems. It is considerably further away with poor visibility and sound in relation to the Convention Center. The site sits alongside railroad tracks making it virtually impossible to hear as trains travel past. The ground is covered with wood chips, small trees and one paved pathway all of which make the area completely inaccessible to the disabled. This 'compromise' site is unacceptably far away and will burden the effectiveness of our message."
The RNC has made the claim that the parking lot at the 4th and K site is needed for a "special needs area" to shuttle disabled delegates to and from the Convention Center.
"This is an attempt to pit one minority community against all the rest," charges Schumacher. "We have been in coalition with the special needs community in San Diego before the flap over the location of the free speech zone broke out, and there is strong understanding on all sides that we are not arguing with one another over this issue. We see it as yet another attempt by some anti-free-speech forces in the Republican Party to play the game of divide and conquer. We will not participate in such destructive games."
Meanwhile, VOICES '96 and several allied organizations were the first in line to apply for the permits for the "free speech zone." The planned events include the VOICES '96 kickoff rally Monday evening August 12; a Queer Youth SpeakOut Tuesday afternoon, an AIDS demonstration Tuesday evening; and a rally on the final night of the convention, Thursday, August 14 sponsored by Voices for Justice, a coalition of progressive organizations. In order to secure a spot in the front of the line, organization volunteers camped out around the clock for over three days outside the San Diego Police Department Gaslamp Quarter Storefront Office in downtown San Diego from 4:00 a.m., June 17 until the permits were accepted at 8:00 a.m., June 20.
LGBT VOICES '96 (Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Voters Organized in Coalition for the Elections) is a San Diego-based grass roots coalition of local and national organizations coordinating political action, educational forums, and cultural arts prior to and during the Republican National Convention.
LGBT VOICES '96 can be reached at LGBTVOICES@aol.com and at http://www.rainbow-mall.com/sandiego/voices/.