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Marching on the DNC: Interview with Cheri Honkala

The Democratic National Convention will take place in Philadelphia, from July 25th to July 28th. City authorities readily issued permits for four marches during the convention, but the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign had to file a complaint in federal court, with the help of the ACLU, to get a permit for their march, the March for Our Lives. That complaint was settled out of court on June 30th and the marchers now plan to step off outside Philadelphia City Hall at 3:00 pm on the first day of the convention. I spoke to campaign organizer, Philadelphia native, and former Green Party vice presidential candidate Cheri Honkala.

Ann Garrison: Could you tell us, Cheri Honkala, about the court victory you won there in Philadelphia? 

Cheri Honkala: It was a struggle but we were adamant and told the ACLU over and over again for 48 hours that we would not change our permit request, and we have won the right to march on the south side of city hall at 3:00 o’clock, going all the way up Broad Street to the front door of the Democratic National Convention. And so we’re hoping that anybody that was afraid before will turn out in droves and join us. Our march has turned into a real symbol of the fight for political independence from the two corporate controlled parties. And I think we’re gonna look back and see this as an important historical marker.

AG: You just said that you were telling the ACLU that you would not change your permit request. Why did you have to keep telling the ACLU this?

CH: Well, for pretty much 48 hours straight, we received a lot of pressure. The ACLU kept telling us that the city wanted to change our march route, wanted to change everything about our march, and kept coming back to the table over and over again. And I’m just very proud of the front line communities here. They stayed very strong. They didn’t buckle under pressure the city was putting on us.

We’re still concerned because we think the city is going to try and plan various different events at the same time as our march to overshadow our march. I think they’re going to have famous musicians playing at the same time on the other side of city hall. So it’s really important that people understand that our march begins at 3:00 on the south side of city hall, because the Democratic Party is going to stop at absolutely nothing to make sure that the voices of poor and other front line communities are not heard in the Democratic National Convention.

AG: Do you have any hope of influencing the Democratic Party with this march? 

CH: After being in the anti-poverty and anti-homeless movement for over 30 years, I honestly have to say I have no hope anymore for the Democratic Party. Things are not going to change or get better for the poor in this country if we continue to somehow hope that the Democratic Party can be reformed.

AG: Will you have nonviolence training as part of the preparation for the march?

CH: We’re having several sessions of nonviolence training leading all the way up until two days before the convention. We’ll have trainings before we step off on July 25th. It’s really important to us that the whole world understands that we’re a nonviolent movement. We’re actually very against all forms of violence, but we think it’s incredibly important that front line communities are heard from. And we intend to bring many people to the mike who will give testimony to the horrible things that are happening in this country. We’ve called for international observers, we’re hoping that people bring cameras, that people film what happens on July 25th. We’re hoping that people will take some time in their summer, travel to Philadelphia. If you don’t want to participate in the march, you can stand on the sidewalk and be a human rights observer.

AG: The federal government is reported to have awarded the City of Philadelphia more than 43 million dollars to cover security costs, including overtime pay for police, firefighters, paramedics and prison staff. Is this intimidating? 

CH: Law enforcement becomes more draconian at each convention. We’ve heard there may even be drone surveillance at this one. But we’re a nonviolent march and we can’t let it frighten us.

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Ann Garrison is an independent journalist who also contributes to the San Francisco Bay View, Global Research, the Black Agenda Report and the Black Star News, and produces radio for KPFA-Berkeley and WBAI-New York City.  In 2014, she was awarded the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize by the Womens International Network for Democracy and Peace.  She can be reached at ann@afrobeatradio.com.

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