My first assignment at the DNC was to find a designated "free speech zone" aka a "freedom cage." Apparently, there are several around the Pepsi Center. This one is near the corner of 7th St. and Auraria Pkwy, in sight of an amusement park.
The cage is just a parking lot in the baking sun, surrounded by a fine-gauge metal fence.
Street protests are forbidden outside these zones. Every effort has been made to isolate the areas from public view. DNC organizers made a big deal out of the fact that protesters would be allowed to use the parade route.
A "parade route" sounds public, maybe even prominent. In fact, the march takes place inside a semi-opaque corridor of cyclone fencing. Where the cyclone gauge is wide enough to see through, the fencers added green mesh to block out the light. On one side of the corridor is the University of Colorado, which is closed to the public today. On the other side is the security zone around the Pepsi Center.
I followed a Falun Gong marching band through the corridor in the mid-day sun. Between the altitude and the heat, nobody was feeling very well by the time we arrived at the cage.
Each group gets a slot on the marching schedule. Falun Gong had an 11 am start. At 3pm they’ll do the same march all over again. If this morning’s slightly surreal event is any indication, they will stand at attention with their banners and brass instruments facing two or three bored photographers. Paramedics on bikes will glide past periodically to make sure no one has keeled over with heat stroke.
FG had a full marching band in addition to the usual protesters with full-color banners depicting human rights abuses perpetrated against the group’s followers by the Chinese government.
In this photograph, you see two Falun Gong protesters chatting to some of the more adventurous DNC-goers who ventured to the perimeter of their inner circle to check out the free speech. A security guard looks on.
The free speech zone was remarkably effective in deterring speech and media coverage of said speech. I saw a couple protesters from Recreate ’68, a pharma-sponsored street team promoting flu vaccines, and some secularists with a Darwin fish sign.