Orange County Convention Center Reduces Free-Speech Zones for GOP Protesters

Orange County Convention CenterIf you are planning on protesting outside of the Republican presidential debate and straw poll taking place this weekend at the Orange County Convention Center, then you may be a little upset to find out that the area in which you can protest is much smaller than usual.

Orange County Sheriff Jerry Dennings was afraid that it would have been too costly to patrol the usual “free-speech” zone, which was a lengthy stretch of three roads outside of the convention center.

In response convention center officials revised where protesters would be allowed to voice their opinions and directed groups to two small spots outside of the southern end of the rather large convention center. The two areas are still close to the main parking lot and entrance for this weekend’s events according to center officials.

According to Executive Producer of the Orange County Convention Center Tom Ackert, “We understand and appreciate the law. They will have prime, central, visible locations.” However, Darden Rice, spokeswoman for the health-care advocacy group Protect Your Care, stated that the idea of herding protesters into two small areas is troubling. According to Rice, “It does bother me. The entire country is a free-speech zone.”

Orlando’s GOP weekend begins with a national televised debate on Thursday with top presidential candidates speaking before thousands of participants at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday. Saturday sees the Republican Party of Florida holding a presidential straw poll as well.

Orange County officials have stated that they have received a number of notices from a plethora of groups planning on protesting. “We believe that it is in the best interest of the public safety that we designate a smaller free speech area in order to make the area the safest and allow protesters the opportunity to express their first amendment rights,” stated Dennings in an email. “While there are current areas designated, the consensus is that the areas are too large to efficiently manage and ensure public safety.”

Protect Your Care is planning on using this weekend to criticize Republican attempts to reduce funding for Medicare as well as Medicade and to also scrap the American Security Act. Rice did agree that there may be a need to manage any large group of protesters, so some changes could be reasonable. Rice added, “But if they are using this to put us out of sight and manage what people see at this event, that’s totally unacceptable. I would be disappointed.”

Source: Orlando Sentinel – GOP convention-center events spur protest zone changes

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