RNC protest areas exclude park Republicans objected to as potential site

Sanctioned protests will be limited to two areas at next month’s RNC in downtown Milwaukee, excluding a park near Fiserv Forum that Republicans objected to as a potential protest site.

The U.S. Secret Service, which revealed the final security perimeter for the event at a news conference in Milwaukee today, said the location, Pere Marquette Park, is too close to the Milwaukee County Historical Society, which is hosting official RNC events, to ensure safety. Thus, the park was included within the hard perimeter, while the two protest sites are outside that zone in the soft perimeter. 

Designated protest locations will instead include a speaker stand and parade route south of the security perimeter centered around Zeidler Park, and a speaker stand on the north side of the perimeter across from the Fiserv Forum, the main convention venue.

The southern speaker stand and parade route abut the Baird Center, which hosts the media filing center and some RNC events.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the city of Milwaukee this month, alleging it had restricted the First Amendment rights of people planning to protest the convention as part of the Coalition to March on the 2024 RNC. Mediation efforts broke down this week after the coalition rejected the city’s proposed protest route. 

ACLU staff attorney Tim Muth in a statement today said the expansion of the security zone to the Milwaukee River and Pere Marquette Park “cannot be justified.” 

“The expansion represents an impermissible concession to the Republican National Committee, which did not want to see or hear demonstrators near its convention,” Muth said. 

Muth said the ACLU was “surprised and disappointed” to see how much of downtown Milwaukee will be blocked off from non-attendees, adding it’s “more critical than ever” that the city step in to allow opportunities for protest. 

The Coalition to March on the 2024 RNC in a lengthy statement said Nick DeSiato, chief of staff for Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson and a co-chair of the 2024 RNC executive steering committee, and Milwaukee Police Jeffrey Norman have “worked tirelessly to defend Republicans.”  

“Our City has been designed to be their playground, meanwhile, for years, we could not manage to get a reply from the city in terms of granting a permit for our requested route,” the group said. “They pretend it’s impossible to accommodate our route, but this is immediately countered by the fact that they’ve accommodated to the maximum extent for the Republicans.” 

Ahead of today’s announcement, Republican leaders had pressed for the protest zone to exclude Pere Marquette Park.

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, had urged Gov. Tony Evers and the mayor to get involved and demand the anticipated protest zone be moved further away from the Fiserv Forum, calling the proximity “ridiculous.” 

Johnson’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the finalized protest zone. 

DeSiato said the areas provide “premier access” for protesters within sight of the convention. 

He said the south side parade route goes directly along the fence line by the Baird Center. 

“You cannot get any closer to that; it is on the fence line,” he said. 

Meanwhile, the speaker stand on the north side is within view of the Fiserv Forum, where prominent officials and delegates will convene. He noted the area is also an egress for buses serving the convention and where delegates will enter.

“I would challenge anyone to find a place closer to there with sight lines directly looking at Fiserv Forum,” he said.

DeSiato said over 100 individuals and groups have signed up to speak or participate in the parade route. Due to the high level of interest, DeSiato said speakers will have 30-minute slots at the podiums, which includes speaker transition time, while parade groups will leave the starting zone in 20-minute increments. 

The security perimeter for the main convention includes two zones, a wider vehicle screening perimeter, and a smaller pedestrian screening perimeter.

In the vehicle screening perimeter, vehicles will have to go through a screening process to enter, but pedestrians can enter freely without screening or credentials. That area extends to 9th Street on the west, the Riverwalk to the east, Cherry Street to the north and Clybourn Street to the south. The perimeter will be in effect starting July 15 at 2 a.m.

The pedestrian screening perimeter requires a credential and RNC ticket to enter, and most vehicles are forbidden. That perimeter hews closely to buildings housing RNC events. That perimeter goes into effect July 14 at 6 p.m.

Boat traffic will also be restricted on the Milwaukee River from Cherry Street to the north and Michigan Street to the south, with some exceptions for residents who have private watercraft docked along the river. 

Restrictions are expected to be lifted in the early morning of July 19 following the convention’s close.

An additional security zone will be in place for the RNC kickoff event preceding the convention. The hard perimeter for that event includes Henry Maier Festival Park, the site of Summerfest, and Lakeshore State Park. Several blocks to the west are to be designated as a vehicle screening perimeter.

See the Secret Service release, including maps.

See the City of Milwaukee’s FAQ page on the convention here, including additional maps, protest information, road closures, access procedures and more.

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