FRANKFORT — As Paul Trickel approached the front entrance of the Kentucky state Capitol Monday, he observed three people enter without incident.
But when Trickel and some of his colleagues, part of the Poor People’s Campaign, reached the arched entrance, they were met by four Capitol security guards who told them they could enter only two at a time.
It was the fourth time the group has been denied entrance en masse to the Capitol, following a recent policy restricting access to protest groups which don’t have a permit to demonstrate inside the building.
When Trickel, a social worker from Florence, questioned one of the guards about the apparent inconsistency, the officer told him: “You can contact the Kentucky State Police. All we were told was two at a time.”
The group has been demonstrating on Mondays for the past six weeks. At the first demonstration, they blocked traffic on the street between the Capitol and the Capitol Annex where legislative offices and some executive branch offices are housed. Later the same day, others refused to leave the building at closing time.
That prompted KSP Commissioner Rick Sanders to implement the two-by-two policy. He also said some participants had openly advertised their wish to be arrested. Sanders said protesting groups must apply for a permit to demonstrate at the Capitol and the Poor People’s Campaign hasn’t done that.
Jeremy Porter of Lexington didn’t fare any better when he questioned Officer Harry Rose who advised Porter to contact the KSP public relations office.
“Talk to public relations,” he told Porter. “We’re not answering any questions.”
Porter said the group wished to share their concerns about social and economic justice with elected representatives and asked if other groups had been allowed to enter the Capitol. Rose said those groups “didn’t try to stay all night.”
Later, Porter told reporters the group’s purpose Monday was “not to be here over night — our purpose is to communicate our message. This is about getting access to our elected representatives.”
Porter said the group hoped to deliver a written letter laying out their concerns and some individual written testimonials by some who have been personally affected by government policies which they say contribute to poverty, discrimination and environmental dangers.
He said it’s clear the Poor People’s Campaign is being singled out, but he said he doesn’t blame the security officers. “They’re enforcing a policy that came from somewhere up above them.”
As the protestors milled around on the porch in front of the entrance, Mary Wiese of Kirksville, a retired teacher, said it’s wrong to deny citizens entry to the seat of their government.
“Basically, it’s just wrong to not let people have the freedom of speech and assembly,” she said.
Despite the heat, the protestors joined others at the front steps below the Capitol where they braved the sun and humidity to engage in folk songs and hear from several speakers.
As some passed out water bottles and others pulled out umbrellas to protect against the sun, Rev. Don Gillet, a Lexington pastor and Executive Director of the Kentucky Council of Churches, addressed the group, telling them not to give up.
“We won’t be silent anymore,” Gillet said. “We’ll turn up the heat. Turn up the heat! Turn up the heat!”
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort; follow him on Twitter @cnhifrankfort.