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Protest Then & Now: Permits

In 1968, when the Yippies tried to get a permit to stage a festival in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, their request was denied. According to feminist and activist Jo Freeman, Chicago authorities responded to what threatened to be an influx of demonstrators during the Democratic National Convention “by refusing to grant permits for any marches and for only one rally.”

This decision had an impact on the violence that ensued. Large-scale marches and street-based demonstrations still took place in Chicago, but because much of the protest activity was deemed illegal, police were able to justify their arrests of protesters. The violence that took place at the 1968 convention was unprecedented; as a result, cities that have hosted conventions since have taken pains to place stricter controls on protest activity, often through the use of permit regulations.

Permit Negotiations: Then

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Mayor Daley

In 1968, when the Yippies tried to get a permit to stage a festival in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, their request was denied. According to feminist and activist Jo Freeman, Chicago authorities responded to what threatened to be an influx of demonstrators during the Democratic National Convention “by refusing to grant permits for any marches and for only one rally.”

This decision had an impact on the violence that ensued. Large-scale marches and street-based demonstrations still took place in Chicago, but because much of the protest activity was deemed illegal, police were able to justify their arrests of protesters. The violence that took place at the 1968 convention was unprecedented; as a result, cities that have hosted conventions since have taken pains to place stricter controls on protest activity, often through the use of permit regulations.

Permit Negotiations: Now

In 2008, the months leading up to the Republication National Convention (RNC) were fraught with permit negotiations. The Coalition to March on the RNC to Stop the War contended that the city of St. Paul would not accept permit applications for protests during the convention until March, and did not establish a timeline for granting approval of permits, leaving organizations without enough time to plan protests for the early September convention. “Protest zones” were moved just days before the convention, forcing groups to reapply for permits.

Protesters at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver (DNC), Colorado cited similar obstacles. Although a lottery system was created for the any competing organizers that wanted to protest in Denver parks and public spaces, members of the Recreate 68 alliance objected that their names had been purposely removed from permit applications.

For the 2008 RNC, the Minneapolis, Minnesota city council had proposed a new law that required mandatory permits for groups of more than 50 people wanting sole access to public sidewalks. Opponents of the law, including the city attorney’s office, claimed that it not only amounted to increased hardships in the permit process, but that the city could use it to prevent controversial protesters from demonstrating in high-profile sites near the convention headquarters.

In order to deter the kind of unregulated street protests that took place during the 1968 convention, cities hosting the 2008 conventions placed greater restrictions on public protest, which could only take place at predetermined sites.

Learn if the relationship between police and protestors and has changed since 1968 >>

“The whole world is watching’ became more than just a slogan.” Read about the media’s role in protest, then and now >>

Protest Index >>


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