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LOCAL News :: Civil & Human Rights

People Protest War, Despite Cancellation of Constitutional Rights

Thousands of Chicagoans mobilized on Saturday for marches and a rally to oppose the U.S. occupation of Iraq -- despite the efforts of city officials to cancel constitutional rights. Click HERE to read corporate coverage from the Sun-Times and Tribune.
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Click HERE to read corporate coverage from the Sun-Times and Tribune.

Thousands of Chicagoans mobilized on Saturday for marches and a rally to oppose the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Several hundred protesters -– including many seniors and parents pushing their children in strollers -– gathered illegally at Oak and Michigan at noon to try to march south on Michigan Ave. with their anti-war message, arguing that they wanted to march and flyer where the people were, rather than down empty side-streets with little public visibility.

Chicago cops massed columns of police in riot gear and cops on horses at Oak and Michigan, where police had earlier threatened to arrest people not just for assembling but for attempting to convene a press conference on the sidewalk. As Chicago police commander Phil Cline read a pre-prepared order telling protesters they would be arrested if they didn’t march down the designated police route, activists distributed about 7,500 flyers to on-the-spot volunteers who agreed to try to make their way back in ones and twos to major thoroughfares to distribute the information.

Police told protesters who went early to Oak and Michigan that M19 organizers had cancelled the assembly and acquiesced to the City's 'alternative' -- a flat-out lie that succeeded in tricking at least a handful of people to head to the cop protest pit at BugHouse square six blocks west of Michigan.

The double-sided flyers explained that the City had cancelled the constitution and free speech, and on the other side described the dollar cost of the war: over $2.1 billion in Chicago tax dollars alone, over $11 billion in Illinois tax dollars; over $200 billion – and growing daily – nationally. The flyer also described the even more devastating -- and growing -- human cost of the occupation: more than 1,500 dead U.S. personnel, and over 100,000 Iraqi deaths, according to the respected British medical journal, the Lancet.

People volunteered on the spot to take the flyers, try to slip away from the police blockade, and distribute them along the same thoroughfares from which the larger march had been barred.

”I made sure that every person I passed got a copy of the flyer -– and an earful about the City’s abolition of free speech,” said one woman, who was able to grab several hundred flyers and elude the police to get back on Michigan Ave.

Police arrested several people at Oak and Michigan before commanders gave the order to start shoving people with billy clubs and shields west on Oak Street. When activist Andy Thayer tried to address the press, police superintendent Cline shouted from the background "You’re under arrest, Andy," and cops swarmed the speaker. "You can protest in Beirut, but not in Chicago!" shouted Thayer as he was hoisted into a paddywagon.

Police also arrested Methodist minister Dan Dale and pacifist Brad Lyttle, who were trying to 'disperse' as individuals to make their way to Michigan Ave. to flyer passersby.

One woman with her infant stood defiantly on the Oak Street sidewalk just west of Michigan until police forcibly pushed mom, baby and stroller back towards other protesters. The column of peace activists was met by a group of protesters heading east from Clark and Delaware -- the designated police protest pit -- to try to join protesters on Michigan Ave. After confronting mass police lines at side streets along Oak, the protesters ducked south on Dearborn -- one block east of the designated police protest pit -- where they were joined by about 800 protesters moving north on Dearborn from feeder marches that had converged around Wacker Drive and State St. south of the Chicago river.

That larger group was stalled for about an hour at around Oak and Delaware while activists and their lawyers attempted to negotiate with the police to move the column one block east to State St., a more heavily trafficked corridor than the Clark St. dead zone, where protesters refused to march, and Dearborn, a street only slightly less deserted than the Clark St. corridor. Several hundred protesters elected to leave the assembly and march south on the police-designated Clark St. route away from the park at Delaware, where the main column of marchers was stalled. A number of observers on the scene have reported that the Clark St. column included many members of the International Socialist Organization and PL -- the Progressive Labor Party -- who broke with the larger M19 coalition commitment to refuse to accept Clark St. under any circumstances. (To be fair, the PLP never endorsed the M19 coalition, the rally or its consensus to refuse a police dictated march route on Clark St.)

Communication among protesters during the standoff with police was uneven, with many near the front line calling for a push to Michigan Ave. rather than State St., and protesters on the south end of the stall largely left out of the information loop, although several anarchists were able to convene an on-the-fly consulta that gave people some measure of information about the situation on the ground.

Police appeared to bail from their initial excuse that any assembly or march outside of designated -- and largely empty -- police protest pits and streets would be too disruptive of traffic and commerce. On Dearborn, police brass insisted instead that protesters march the wrong way down Dearborn, a one-way street. Protesters argued that people could march on the sidewalk on State St., which is two-way, with much less disruption to the vaunted car traffic. But cop superintendent Cline and the CPD’s attorney mouthpiece and pathological liar Sherry Mecklenburg refused, and eventually the lawyer on site agreed people should head south on Dearborn, tying up traffic along the entire corridor for almost two hours.

OK, I’m gonna take off my reporter’s hat and speak as a participant in this action. Couple things. First, unfortunately the assembly at Oak and Michigan was small -- maybe several hundred people -- and autonomously organized feeder marches were never able to make it to the area to support these folks, many of whom were elderly or with kids.

A lot of those who DID assemble at Oak and Michigan came because they were outraged to learn that not only would police arrest people who tried to march, but would arrest people for even attempting to speak to the press at Oak and Michigan, a truly jack-boot cop move that I learned Thursday evening from Chicago Alderman Joe Moore. Moore, who had originally volunteered to participate in that press conference, bailed, saying he supported us but wanted Saturday’s message to be about the war, and not about the permit flap with the fascists that run this city. One local luminary, police brutality critic Rev. Paul Jakes, did step up to the plate, and arrived just after noon with Thayer in a cab. Unfortunately, Paul walked into a tactical situation about which he knew nothing, so it was pretty confusing on the ground.

The cops’ jackboot bullshit continued on Dearborn, where both police commander Radke and CPD lawyer Sherri "I wanna wear a uniform" Mecklenberg told me that I would be arrested if I left Dearborn to go by myself as a pedestrian to flyer fellow pedestrians on State St. with the anti-war flyer. "You’ll be arrested, Chris," smirked Radke, who also noted that it would probably all be 'worked out' in court, ie. any charges would be tossed out. He did not note that the flyers would, of course, be tossed out, too. Bear in mind that I learned later from a National Lawyers Guild attorney that the CPD actually has budgeted money for payouts to arrestees whose civil and constitutional rights are violated by the cops and later successfully sue the department for being autocratic pricks.

I want to take a moment to dissect the police press bullshit in the wake of the action. Note that on the corporate media outlets police sub-commander Mauer, Cline and the department’s other stooges have gone to great lengths to talk about how people got to exercise their constitutional rights, a flat-out lie that would be hilarious if it weren’t so outrageous.

Second, the police have stated publicly that 'no extra tax dollars' were spent for police actions on Saturday, which I find amazing given the number of cops from other jurisdictions, let alone the bejillions of riot clad CPD flatfoots amassed along every conceivable access street back to Michigan or State. Wonder what City budget line the cops will use to bury the expense they went to to shut town peaceful dissent along any major thoroughfare.

Also, around quarter to four, police thug Phil Cline communicated to protesters that the federal plaza rally would be shut down at 4PM instead of our permitted time of 5PM, arguing that the cops' 'paperwork' said 4PM and that anyone remaining would be arrested. The slimeball police graciously -- not -- agreed to give stage volunteers an extra 15 minutes to wrap up, which was irrelevant since the rally was very tightly organized and we were pretty much done anyway. Guess Cline couldn't wait to get back to the donuts, and an extra hour of 'legal' speech was just too much for the big boy to bear.

Re the tactical situation, in retrospect I'm amazed that the M19 Coalition didn't think to set up a cell phone text messaging system for protesters so people could have at least gotten breaking news about developments on the ground, a situation that should be remedied for all future actions, since cell phone contact is difficult and police in other jurisdictions routinely block phones anyway. Even if protesters in the streets were unable to get these communications, it would have allowed supporters away from the melee a chance to find out what was going on -- including many folks who were clearly cowed by police intimidation in the run-up to this action and never showed up at all -- including to the 'legal,' 'permitted' rally at the federal plaza.

And a note about the rally. The speakers overall were really great, Cynthia McKinney included -- the ONLY congressional representative who had the spine to show up.

Re the cop/corporate press vs. activist debate about the numbers: about a thousands people were in motion on Dearborn, a figure that the police have also put out there. Federal plaza holds around 5,000 people, but between 10 and 20% of the plaza was blocked off by barricades. The rest was full, and organizers agree that the 2,500 to 3,000 figure is pretty damned accurate.

The corporate press got a couple things wrong. First, there were not 100 Protest Warriors out. Nope, sorry, just not accurate. They had at best a couple dozen deluded right-wingers exercising THEIR free speech unmolested by the cops. And apparently the federal authorities also granted a permit for part of the plaza to these people, although they seem to have rethought the tactical utility of this position and moved across the street to stand behind the police barricades like the simpering cowards they are. Since their local 'leader' is a Chicago cop, I’m sure they enjoyed themselves jawing with their colleagues.

Second, it would just be so great if our colleagues in the corporate press could get some of the other salient facts straight -- including the fact that two years ago protesters marched down Lake Shore Drive with police permission. Don't take my word for it -- look at the extensive video showing police commander Risley waiving people onto LSD.

I also want to take a minute to thank a number of corporate reporters on the ground who made an effort to actually provide a measure of balance to this story. Perhaps most stunning was Fox's weekend coverage, I kid you not. But other outlets found ways to work in angles that flesh out the story, including one network affiliate that sent a camera crew to an 11AM assembly of VFW vets at Soldier Field, and included tape of a medal-bedecked Black veteran who choked back tears while saying this was a war for oil that was sacrificing soldiers for no good reason.

The coverage on Channel 66 was particularly amazing, with Latinos at both Oak and Michigan and the rally decrying both the war at home and the war abroad. I am personally awed at the courage these immigrants, many of whom have family members who are serving in the military (and some of whose loved ones have died in this war) showed in stepping up to speak truth to power. These people stuck their necks out at a time when every non-native-born U.S. resident faces deportation -- or worse -- for exercising this kind of moral backbone. Note to native-born U.S. residents who missed the protests: we should all take the lead of these fearless people.

Also, I think it bears noting that, for what it’s worth, a lot of the copper command staff also seem to think the City’s hard line on refusing to allow peaceful protest where the people are is pretty stupid. They also are not particularly enamoured of mayoral mouthpiece Sherry 'dog collar' Mecklenberg, who always seems to assert herself as the 'real' commander at these actions, undercutting the usual suspects' capacity to exercise the kind of ultimate authority they are used to. Note to cops: please sort out who you serve. Clearly it’s not the people of the city. Do you really like your master being 'Ms. Despot' Mecklenberg, the tool of Chicago mayor 'fuck the police contract' Richie Daley?

Massive shoutouts to members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, who provided security at the rally and whose members spoke powerfully and eloquently against this disastrous war. And major shoutouts to speakers who connected the dots, tying the war on civil liberties at home to the war on the world abroad, and linking together the whole 'permanent war' policy to a sweeping attack by our ruling elites on the rest of us.

The biggest shoutouts go to the protesters that had the courage to defy the 'law' and try to take the streets anyway. The law, of course, has nothing to do with what’s right, since the law has also been used to argue that Blacks are only 3/5 human, woman have no right to vote, and workers have no right to organize.

The day’s biggest fuck-head? Chicago mayor Richie Daley, at whose behest the cops shredded basic rights. Note that this grifting crook has once again placed commerce and his close personal relationship with the Bush administration ahead of the people who live in this city, and who’ve forked out over $2 billion dollars that could have been used to fund the CTA, affordable health care and housing, and the host of other human needs derailed by our government. Oh, but wait! Da Mare is a Democratic Party member! Er, how, how, how could a 'Democrat' do this? Note to local peace activists who continue to apologize for local elected officials: your disconnect serves only to undercut the movement, and set the stage for a further erosion of our rights. Not one of our elected officials had the courage to defy this autocracy and stand at Michigan and Oak. Not one. The liberal Democrat moniker is just another way of saying sell-out. If you're a no-show when it really matters, you've sold us out -- again.

A final recommendation: we should never, ever again participate in the sham that is the 'permit' process in Chicago. The deck is stacked against us, and only underscores that 'legal' and 'right' have nothing to do with each other. The permit battle was engaged at considerable cost in part at the behest of some of our more gentle souls who argued that it was critical to push the 'legal' route in trying to secure our civil liberties. Can you-all see the futility of this now, in a system where the thugs in power make -- and change -- the rules as they go along? We had no 'permit' for the Chicago Park District-run park at Bughouse square either, yet the police 'granted' us on-the-fly permission to assemble in this ghetto, a scenario that thankfully most protesters sought to circumvent.

Bear in mind, people: while the Bush administration is using our tax dollars to bankroll UNPERMITTED public protests by falangists in Beirut and their favored elites in Kiev, da mare and this regime -- nationally and locally -- are using our tax dollars to suppress exactly the same kind of public protest in this city and across the country. Time to take a stand. No mas.

And to that lady with her kid and stroller at Oak and Michigan who refused to back down until the bully clubs pushed her back: you and your baby are MY heroes.



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