Activists who want to rally in the state Capitol’s rotunda have to follow a new rule starting this week: they can’t have more than 450 people in attendance.
Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration said the move is partly about keeping the Capitol accessible to people with disabilities. But some of the people the administration says it's helping say they didn't ask for this.
The rotunda is the Capitol’s main thoroughfare—and it’s also the building’s primary site for big protests and rallies, some of which can pack its floor, stairs, and balconies.
Wolf spokesman J.J. Abbott said the administration decided on the attendance cap after analyses on public and fire safety. Plus, he said it will keep floor space free so everyone can navigate the building.
“The rotunda is a main artery of the building and serves as the primary and, in some cases, the only means for people with disabilities to get from one area of the complex to another,” Abbott said in a statement.
But Germán Parodi, a Philadelphia-based wheelchair user who often protests at the Capitol with disability-rights group ADAPT, said this is a solution in search of a problem.
“We’ve never had a problem with access in that manner,” Parodi said. “I think it’s much more important, and they are ignoring, how many offices in the Capitol are not wheelchair accessible.”
Along with the new crowd policy, the Department of General Services, which manages the Capitol grounds, has constructed roped-off walkways through the rotunda.
Parodi said he’s concerned they’ll actually make his work more difficult.
“What I foresee is them completely separating politicians from their electorate,” he said.
Parodi and his fellow disability advocates aren’t the only ones dismayed by the change. Other activists also defended big rallies—like labor organizer Kati Sipp, who says she once helped bring around 5,000 people to the Capitol.
“It just seems to me to be a pretty anti-democratic move, to limit the number of people who can be in the rotunda at any one time,” she said.
Abbott said he doesn’t expect the new rule to have much impact, since most rallies draw far fewer than 450 people.
“The Capitol complex also has other spaces that can accommodate larger crowds,” he said. “[Department of General Services] staff will work with groups to find other accommodations if they believe they will have more than 450 attendees.”
He added, however, that the new policy will be “constantly monitored to see if revision is needed.”