Political protests have existed as long as there have been structured systems of governance. We know for a fact that in 1155 BC, the tomb builders of ancient Egypt protested against the government of Ramses III over the reduction of their food rations.

It is certainly no different with protests at political conventions. The first national nominating political convention in the United States, held by the Anti-Masonic Party on September 26, 1831 in Baltimore, was predictably accompanied by a small protest by Masonic supporters. A meme was even created by protesters, which depicted the convention attendees as goats, donkeys, geese and other animals.

Since then, almost every political convention has had its fair shares of protesters. After all, political protests are a natural expression of dissatisfaction of the members of any society, especially a democratic one. However, unless the protests are significantly large, they tend to be drowned out by the festivities of conventions.

This might surprise many, but every Republican National Convention over the past two decades has attracted scores of protesters.

List of Protests at Republican Conventions (1992-2012)

• 1992, Houston: A few dozen members of La Resistencia staged a demonstration outside the Astrodome, the convention venue, in protest against alleged acts of violence and subsequent deportation of undocumented immigrants. Several protesters were arrested by police after crossing the designated protest area. Two days later, another protest was organized by the Aids Coalition to Unleash Power against Rev. Jerry Falwell during a speech at a nearby hotel.

• 1996, San Diego: As a result of conservative firebrand Pat Buchanan’s threat to “break down the doors” of the San Diego Convention Center (SDCC) and “take over the party” if Bob Dole was nominated, the RNC moved the protest area several blocks away from SDCC. The decision prompted a lawsuit by lawyers acting for more than 60 protest groups, which forced the RNC to move the protest area to the sidewalk in front of SDCC. However, Bob Dole’s selection of Jack Kemp, a staunch conservative, as his VP dampened down protests to just a handful issues-based protesters on the eve of the convention.

• 2000, Philadelphia: Philadelphia police conducted numerous pre-emptive street-sweeps and raids to thwart off protesters suspected of planning civil disobedience, resulting in the arrest of 391 people. However, they were left embarrassed when most of the cases were dismissed by courts. In the end, the commotion caused massive traffic jams around the city, but very little happened at the First Union Center (now renamed Wells Fargo Center).

• 2004, New York: The 2004 convention probably attracted the largest number of protesters and demonstrators in history, with many estimating upwards of 100,000 participants. Although dramatic, it was largely peaceful, and surprisingly, only 1800 people were arrested. Anti-war activists made up the majority of protesters, although the naked protest at the Madison Square Garden by about 1,800 protesters drew the most attention. The city however ended up paying protesters $17.9 million to settle various lawsuits brought by about 1,630 people.

• 2008, Saint Paul: Despite the large number of protesters (estimated at about 20,000), strict permit rules made most of the protest events very low-key. Even the ten thousand-odd Ron Paul supporters who attended a protest convention just a short distance away from the main venue (Xcel Energy Center) didn’t cause too much disruption.

• 2012, Tampa: For months leading up to the convention, Tampa police officers infiltrated major protest groups, including the Occupy movement – a few even took leadership positions in several groups! The proactive steps resulted in the most peaceful convention since 1984. The only notable large protest event during the four-day convention was the 300-strong Coalition to March protest held on the first day of the convention.

Expected Protest in Cleveland

While no one is expecting the protests for the 41st Republican National Convention in Quickens Arena, Cleveland in July to rival the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, there are concerns that it could be the most disruptive since the 1972 Republican Convention in Miami.


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