City of Chicago Tries to Quash Anti-NATO Demonstration

Chicago rejects NATO summit protest march plans

Kim Janssen

The city of Chicago has rejected a request by anti-war protesters to march through downtown Chicago on May 20, the first day of the NATO summit.

The protesters already had a permit to march along the same route — from Daley Center Plaza to McCormick Place — one day earlier. That was the date the now-moved G-8 summit was to have begun.

But when President Barack Obama moved the G-8 conference earlier this month to Camp David, Md., the protesters put in an application for a city permit that asked to move their march back a day, to Sunday, May 20, to coincide with the opening of the NATO summit.

The Chicago Department of Transportation now says the planned protest would “substantially and unnecessarily interfere with traffic” if it were held on that Sunday.

In a letter denying the application for a march that was sent to protest organizer Andy Thayer, assistant transportation commissioner Mike Simon wrote that there wouldn’t be “sufficient number of on-duty police officers, or other city employees authorized to regulate traffic,” on that Sunday.

Motorcades shuttling 5,000 summit attendees — including 50 heads of state — would create “significant traffic impediments which would be exacerbated by the proposed 2.64-mile parade route,” Simon wrote, warning that there wasn’t enough manpower to police the summit and the protest while adequately covering the rest of the city.

The city has given protesters until Thursday to accept a suggested alternate march route — from the Petrillo Music Shell in Grant Park down Columbus and Congress before eventually arriving at the site of the summit.

Thayer said the alternate route — which avoids longer stretches of Michigan Avenue and State Street — would be “far less visible and convenient for public transport.” He said Monday that city officials were trying to take advantage of the G-8’s move away from Chicago to stifle protest.

He said that the city’s claim that it doesn’t have the resources to handle a Sunday parade is “ridiculous” given that it already accepted an identical request for Saturday, May 19.

“If anything, there’s less traffic on a Sunday,” he said. “I literally cut and pasted the application and just changed the date.”

At a meeting with city officials Monday morning, Thayer was told that a Los Angeles activist already has a permit to protest at the Daley Center Plaza on the Sunday.

If protesters don’t accept the alternate route, or quickly find a way to work with the Los Angeles activist in a way that is acceptable to the city, they will only be permitted to march the day before the summit begins.

“There isn’t much point in marching on an empty building,” Thayer said. “We have a First Amendment right to be within sight and sound of the world leaders when they meet.”

Organizers hope that tens of thousands of protesters will march. They previously hailed the president’s decision to move the G-8 summit as evidence that the political establishment is scared of large-scale protests in an election year.

Obama said at the time that he preferred to hold the G-8 at Camp David because it would be a more relaxed setting for world leaders to meet.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel — who has had a battle of words over protest restrictions with activists since the original plans to host the G-8 and the NATO summits were announced last year — has repeatedly insisted that protesters’ First Amendment rights will be respected.

Law Department spokesman Roderick Drew reiterated that message Monday, saying Emanuel’s administration wants protestors to “express their First Amendment rights but we also have an obligation to keep them safe as they do so, and to keep the city safe at the same time.”

Drew said officials are hopeful that a negotiated agreement can be reached but added that the “NATO summit is significantly larger than the G-8 summit with over 50 heads of state and other high level dignitaries in attendance, therefore the traffic issues also grow in comparison to those of the G-8 summit attendees.”

Contributing: Fran Spielman.


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