The last time global economic leaders formally gathered in Honolulu, in 2001, they encountered protests.
But the protests were peaceful, unlike those that greeted the World Trade Organization in Seattle the year before.
The Asian Development Bank meeting at the Hawaii Convention Center was a smooth affair, with no violence, injury or property damage, as had been feared. “ADB protest march: a success all around,” read a May 10 editorial from The Honolulu Advertiser.
The APEC summit next month is a far more substantive affair than the ADB. Security will be on the highest alert for a U.S. president hosting the leaders of nations such as China, Russia, Indonesia, Japan and South Korea.
Several groups have said they will protest the Nov. 7-13 APEC summit. Although only one has applied for protest permits so far, protests have gained some urgency as a result of the Occupy Wall Street protests that turned up locally this month.
In that regard, the events of 10 years ago may guide the protests of today, according to the ACLU of Hawaii, thanks to a federal consent decree and order that arose out of the ADB meeting.
While the ADB protest was peaceful, it might have turned out differently. That’s because groups wanting to protest complained their First Amendment rights were being violated.
On April 25, 2001, a few weeks before the May 7-11 meetings, the groups sued the city and state in U.S. District Court. Their attorneys were the ACLU of Hawaii, Eric Seitz and Davis, Levin, Livingstone & Grande.
The plaintiffs, led by the grassroots umbrella hui ADB Watch, charged that the defendants had failed to provide plaintiffs with a proper permit to conduct a march.
The suit alleged that city and state agencies had engaged in an “unlawful conspiracy” to “pursue a strategy of deceit, debate and delay intended to interfere with, chill, and prevent” the plaintiffs from expressing First Amendment rights.
The lawsuit charged that the defendants had set up a “censored speech zone” around the Convention Center, including closure of sidewalks. A temporary restraining order was sought.
U.S. District Court Judge David Ezra acted swiftly.
In a consent decree and order issued just days before the ABD board of governors were set to meet, Ezra approved an agreement designed to “ensure that peaceful protests and demonstrations” occurred and to “minimize the possibility of a confrontation between protesters and law enforcement personnel.”
The May 2001 consent decree did not give protesters free rein.
For example, the permit outlined specific protests areas: Ala Moana Beach Park, Kapiolani Bandstand and the Ala Wai Promenade, which is the shaded area that runs along the Ala Wai Canal between Kalakaua Avenue and the makai end of the Convention Center.
Protesters were allowed to use the promenade — essentially, the back side of the Convention Center — for protest activities directed at ADB. More restricted protest was allowed from the promenade to the area of Kahakai Drive and Atkinson Drive, which fronts the Convention Center.
Cops escorted the protesters, but only up to 10 people at a time and on a first-come, first-serve basis. They were subject to a magnetometer search and allowed to carry only leaflets or posters “not on sticks.”
The decree made clear that police would not interfere with “protected forms of expression” in other areas around the Convention Center and Waikiki. It also allowed for the use of a public address system, although not near the Honolulu Zoo.
One other requirement: A permit was issued by the city for a May 9 March for Global Justice, but ADB Watch was required to submit a certificate of insurance valued at a maximum of $500,000.
On Oct. 12 of that year, Judge Ezra issued a second consent decree intended to address issues relating to parade and park permits “for future settlement and/or litigation.”
Ezra’s order is a “final judgment” that “shall be binding upon the city,” and it is this order that the ACLU believes applies to APEC.
“We understand (the consent decree) is permanent, and we have been having on-going discussions with city about it,” said Dan Gluck, ACLU senior staff attorney. “Right now we have had a number of very productive conversations with Corporation Council, so we are optimistic that we can work with Corporation Counsel and other city officials so that anyone who wishes to protest lawfully during APEC will be able to do so.”
Like the first decree, the second decree addresses “protected purposes” in the First Amendment. It applies to any parade (and, presumably, march) that constitutes “a public purpose” where participants are expressing their views.
The second decree also states that the city may not follow 40-day requirements for processing parade permits, giving the city instead a five-day limit. The maximum filing deadline for application of a park permit for public assembly, meanwhile, is three days — except when “spontaneous” events occur, in which case an organizer only needs to give 24-hours notice “or as soon as practicable.”
“For parades, the rules are pretty clear that you don’t need insurance and are not liable for damage,” said Gluck. “As for park permits, the city cannot require deposits for public assembly, for damage to city property. The city cannot hold individuals liable or require them to sign liability agreements.”
Gluck said the consent decree was tested two years ago in a case involving a protester’s run-in with police, “and the city told us the agreements still applied.”
Louise Kim McCoy, Mayor Peter Carlisle‘s press secretary, confirmed that Corporation Counsel has been in consultation with the ACLU regarding APEC-related issues, but she did not elaborate.
McCoy said only one group — World Can’t Wait Hawaii — had applied for a permit with the Parks and Recreation Department to use the Ala Wai Promenade. She said the application was pending, as were applications by the Honolulu Police Department and other “first responders” to establish staging areas to hold vehicles and equipment during APEC.
Wayne Yoshioka, director for the Department of Transportation Services, said his office had not received any requests for street usage permits such as a parade or march. (Permits are not required for sidewalk protests.)
Caroline Sluyter in HPD’s media liaison reiterated that the city does not plan to set up “free speech zones” for protesters.
There will, however, be a U.S. Secret Service “secure zone” off limits to the uninvited around meeting places such as the Convention Center and the Ihilani resort at Ko Olina. Sluyter said road and park closures would be announced two weeks before APEC begins.
As she awaits the city’s decision on her promenade permit — something she said she is doubtful she’ll get — Carolyn Hadfield of World Can’t Wait says plans are in the works to apply for use of a King Street park as a staging area for a march to the Convention Center, and a permit for the march.
The march would take place on Saturday morning, Nov. 12, although it is unclear whether APEC officials will be meeting at the center that day.
Hadfield said she was pleased to learn that the consent decree from 10 years ago might help her cause today.