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Four arrested at second night of anti-war protests

Protesters march for second night to oppose US bombing in Afghanistan
8 October 2001, Chicago—In a move that both energized and alienated members of its constituency, the Chicago Ad Hoc Coalition Against War & Racism led its second “emergency response” march and rally out of the Federal Plaza and into the streets this evening.

The rally started as had previous ones, including the emergency response that was held the previous night. Two singers sang an old spiritual with lyrics changed to include call-and-response slogans against war. The Coalition also invited several speakers to address a multigenerational, multiracial crowd that gathered at the Federal Plaza. Included among the speakers were members of the American Friends Service Committee, National Lawyers Guild, the Chicago Islamic Center, and the International Socialist Organization. Their speeches included opinionated references to a broad range issues of they believe are linked to the war and should be addressed in American politics: racism in America and its increase after the Sept. 11 attacks; the US government’s lack of support for its own poor citizens; the media’s portrayal of the war (dubbed “jingoism” by Jeff Maffziger of the National Lawyers Guild), the government’s often-abusive foreign policy (including the repeatedly cited example of the bombing of Iraq) and mistreatment of immigrants; and the US’s humanitarian aid in the form of a food shipment to Afghanistan that was described as insufficient -- and according to one speaker, condescendingly token in light of the mass destruction of Kabul.

Manal Elhrisse, a Palestinian Chicagoan who wore her hijab (the traditional headscarf of Muslim women), to today’s demonstration despite the harassment the scarf has brought on Muslim women in recent weeks, spoke on behalf of Arab-Americans and Muslims against the attacks on Afghanistan. While she prefaced her statement by saying that the Muslim and Arab communities of Chicago do not support the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, she insisted that “two wrongs don’t make a right.” She also asked for an end to the racist attacks on Arab-Americans on American soil. “I’ve been verbally abused… we’re citizens, just like everyone else.” She believes that the US bombing is pointless, saying, “If we can’t even get our target [Osama bin Laden] then why bomb?” She also stated that the need is not to kill bin Laden, but to redefine US foreign policy: “We can no longer handle having a double standard.”

After the handful of speakers had concluded, the estimated 350 people proceeded to march through the Loop to Michigan Avenue under the watchful eye of a police presence noticeably larger than any previous anti-war rally.

At roughly State and Jackson, members of the group made a push to take the street on eastbound Jackson, but the effort was rebuffed by police.

The protesters proceeded to the intersection of Randolph and Michigan, where they stopped, chanting “No War In Our Name, Afghanistan Is Not to Blame!” Following a brief obstruction of the intersection by the group, whose members had shrunk by about a third, the police pushed part of the march into the northbound lane of the street using horses, while others remained on the sidewalk on the east side of the street. The police then allowed the protesters, many of whom seemed energized by the confrontation, to regroup and continue north in the street. They then marched in the northbound lanes of Michigan Ave., blocking traffic behind them for blocks.

As the group marched, it encountered encouragement, indifference, and scorn from the surrounding passers-by and motorists. Dave Levy leaned over the railing of a nearby stairway, giving the demonstrators the finger with both hands. When asked why he opposed the anti-war effort, Levy said, “My main problem is, you’ve got a small minority who are committed to shouting down the coherent arguments of the opposition.” When asked his opinion of the war against Afghanistan, he stated that he felt the September 11 attacks “had a number of purposes…driving the US out of the Middle East, Israel in particular… unless this country is completely willing to pull up stakes in the Middle East we will never be safe.” He continued to say that he felt that, given a choice between abandoning American business interests that require US control of Middle Eastern political and economic situations and going to war, war was the correct option.

At the north end of the Michigan Avenue bridge, the group stopped again, chanting “Pigs Here, Bombs There; US Out of Everywhere!” Some 40 members of the group, mainly youth, sat down in a soft blockade of the street, while roughly half the protesters left the protest in anticipation of police response or because of political disagreement with the spontaneous civil disobedience.

The police quickly arrested four people, including a sixteen year old girl with cerebral palsy. Two women who were threatened with arrest reported that the people arrested were not issued warnings beforehand. The remainder of the group moved to the sidewalk, where one organizer spoke to the crowd: “Commander Risley wanted to talk to me about what the rules are. Commander, you want to know what the rules are? Fair warnings!”

The arrests were the first the Coalition demonstrations have generated. Previous protests had remained without civil disobedience, and only one march—the emergency response protest on Sunday night—marched on the streets rather than the sidewalks. Some participants in the action expressed reservations about the push to move the march into the streets, particularly given the relatively small size of the march. “It was adventurist,” said one protester who stayed close to the sidewalk but marched with the protesters to their final destination at Tribune Towers.

“We didn’t really have the numbers, and frankly if the cops hadn’t clearly been under some pretty strict orders from higher up not to knock heads, there could have been a real risk that many people could have been hurt or arrested,” the protester, who did not want to be named, added. “Organizers didn’t seem prepared for these contingencies at all – and I’m afraid that whatever restraint command officers operated under tonight will be gone at future actions.” Another protester who asked not to be named speculated that police exercised restraint today because city officials likely want to avoid being tarred in the media right now for attacking peace protesters. “That won’t last long, though,” she said. “I thanked a bunch of cops at the end of the march for exercising restraint tonight, and their response was ‘That’s over’. They seemed really pissed, really irritated that they were on sort of forced ‘best behavior’ – and really ready to rumble.”

After the action broke up, a group of activist moved to the jail at 17th and State where the arrested demonstrators were taken. In an update two hours after the protest, they said that the minor with cerebral palsy was released to her mother with no charges, while the other three arrestees were charged with misdemeanor mob action. In addition, it is believed that one demonstrator was charged with unlawful use of a weapon, allegedly because he had a pocket knife in his pocket at the time of his arrest. No injuries among the arrested activists were reported. Activists engaged in jail solidarity believe that the remaining jailed activists may be bailed out shortly.

The Chicago Ad Hoc Coalition Against War & Racism will hold its next meeting on Wednesday, October 10 at 6:30 p.m. in the basement of Harold Washington College, 30 E. Lake Street (at Wabash).




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