St. Paul will provide soap box for RNC protesters

  • Article by: CHRIS HAVENS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 30, 2008 - 11:33 PM

A stage and microphones, all within eye- and ear-shot of the Xcel Energy Center, will help the city keep a close tab on things.

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A pedestrian crossed W. 7th Street, across from the Xcel Energy Center, on Wednesday near the spot where the city plans to set up a viewing area for the public and protesters. “We’re all gonna be close friends by the time this is over,” said Paul Walsh, a police information officer.

Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune

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The city of St. Paul will provide a stage and amplified sound system for people to use near the Xcel Energy Center during the four days of the Republican National Convention.

The stage will be within the public viewing area, a triangle between Fifth St. and the Dorothy Day Center bounded by the westbound lanes of W. 7th St. That area is where people can gather to express their opinions within earshot and sight of the Xcel, news media outlets and delegates.

"It's in the Xcel's field of view," said police spokesman Tom Walsh.

The city has stressed the need to strike a balance between a safe and secure convention and allowing citizens to be within sight and sound of the delegates.

St. Paul recently won a lawsuit filed by protest groups who had sought a different route and time than the one police gave them. Citing past court decisions, U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen ruled that the police and city were granting unprecedented access to the protesters for a convention of a major political party.

Delegates will be getting off their buses near W. 7th and Kellogg, within sight of the public viewing area.

About 35,000 delegates and spectators are expected to attend, and protesters have predicted that as many as 100,000 demonstrators will show up to the event.

The stage will be available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sept. 1-4, and reservations will be accepted from today until Aug. 11.

Each person or organization will get 50 minutes of stage time. The city will provide the sound system, so no outside microphones or equipment are allowed.

"People can speak to whatever they want," said Brad Meyer, Parks and Recreation Department spokesman. That said, he added, people need to abide by noise ordinances and other applicable laws.

A permit is required, and applications will be available on the city's website, www.stpaul.gov, today. A lottery will determine the schedule, and that takes place Aug. 12. The initial schedule will be available Aug. 18.

The public viewing area will be open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sept. 1-4.

The exact perimeter hasn't been decided, but the fence that will be used won't block views or sounds, Walsh said. There will probably be police officers in the viewing area.

Chris Havens • 651-298-1542

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