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LOCAL News :: Civil & Human Rights

Chicago: Thousands March Against War & Occupation

Thousands of people from across the Midwest marched on March 20 to oppose war and occupation abroad and attacks on civil liberties and basic rights at home.
Thousands of protesters converged on Michigan and Pearson in the heart of Chicago's Gold Coast this afternoon to voice their opposition to U.S. war and occupation abroad and attacks on civil liberties at home.

The cops were, predictably, unyielding in their refusal to allow the protesters to march down Michigan Ave., in keeping with their lying duplicity throughout efforts to organize the protest.

On the plus side, a minimum of least five thousand people according to the cops -- and many more in reality -- came out anyway to oppose U.S.-perpetrated war and occupation, even though the action was not legally sanctioned by the cops.

As recently as the beginning of this week, police were insisting that any assembly at Michigan and Pearson was not in the cards, and that the protesters' preferred march route -- on the street down Michigan Ave. -- was out of the question. Friday, cops briefly publicly backed away from that position, asserting that they were committed to respecting protesters' free speech rights and were prepared to be 'flexible' about the march route.

On Saturday, however, cops and City bureaucrats kicked that commitment to the curb, insisting that protesters march down Clark St. instead of a more visible 'middle way' corridor like State Street.

Organizers felt the action was a qualified success, with the heavy police presence leaving largely unmolested the anti-war activists who gathered for over an hour at Michigan in a space that police had vowed to prevent them from occupying just a few days earlier. There were three arrests during the action, and protesters were seeking their release this evening.

A 30-mile march from the far south side to the Michigan Ave. convergence site grew a healthy head of steam through the morning hours, ultimately bringing upwards of 300 vocal, militant youth with a strong anti-imperialist message to Michigan Ave. and the march that followed.

On balance, protesters were also pleased that their message of opposition to U.S. government policy abroad and at home was getting a hearing, even in the corporate press, although many -- including organizers and volunteers on site -- were highly critical of cops for steering them to Clark St., which has little public visibility on the weekends.

It seems clear that police never intended to allow protesters to march along any corrider besides Clark St., despite their public protestations earlier in the week of respect for free speech. Shortly after 1PM, cops began handing out preprinted flyers ordering marchers to disperse from their 'unlawful' assembly at Michigan and Pearson and march to the scheduled Federal Plaza rally via Clark St.

Because the convergence and rally had been billed as a peaceful, green action with no scheduled civil disobedience, organizers chose not to put people at risk for possible arrest and conceded the Clark St. route to the cops.

"They clearly never intended to bargain in good faith with us," said one organizer, who blasted Chicago police department general council Sheri Mecklenburg -- the police department's corporation council and the lead bureaucratic asshole in the City's effort to keep protesters off Michigan Ave. "There was no reason for us not to march down Michigan Ave., except that the cops and Daley didn't feel like allowing it. So much for visible freedom of speech in this town."

Protesters chose the Michigan Ave. assembly site for its proximity to the location a year ago of more than 700 arrests and sweeping police violence during an emergency protest against the beginning of full-scale war on Iraq.

Activists argue that the Michigan Ave. assembly point and proposed march is symbolicly important because the issue of civil liberties and the right to dissent at home is intimately connected to the U.S. government's policy of war, occupation and empire-building abroad. The government has stepped up obstruction of dissent in the U.S. in the last year, even as increasing numbers of Americans have come to view its invasion and occupation of Iraq as wrong.

A lot of people on Michigan Ave. today were disgusted at Daley's refusal to grant a permit to march in the street down Michigan Ave., and disgusted at the robocop overkill, but they also mostly didn't seem to want hassles with the cops. The gathering included a lot of people who came from the 'burbs as well as the city, plus outlying Illinois cities, towns and counties, and from Detroit, Milwaukee and other Midwest cities.

Palestinians were in the house today, and the issue of the U.S. regime's support for occupation in Palestine, Haiti and other countries figured prominently in the action's slogans and speeches.

What was lame? Too many liberal politicos glomming onto the protest at the last minute to get their mugs on the cameras, when instead they should have been piping up weeks ago to back our right to march down Michigan Ave. A rally at the Federal Plaza that should have been better moderated and way sharper and shorter. The robocops and their dumb-ass marching orders to keep us off the streets and under control. The City's bullshit 'permit' rules, which are dictatorial, cumbersome, stupid and designed to strangle progressive political speech, or any public expression that makes King Daley squirmy. And King Daley, who lies when he says he gives a damn about either the war or free speech, and if he were honest, which he's not, would admit he's just another parasite republocrat who caters to his corporate bosses instead of standing with his constituents.

"I'm pissed off, really pissed off," said one marcher about the police presence. "I own a small business, and the City bleeds me dry every day for this fee or that license infraction, and what do our tax dollars go to? Who's paying for these clowns to police us? We are, and we don't need them. This is a disgusting waste of city resources, and a disgusting attack on our right to free speech."

What was excellent? The anarchists and autonomous youth who put the rubber to the road to get an anti-war, anti-empire, anti-capitalist message out in the neigborhoods -- and whose message was NOT sanitized. The folks from Access Living, who came in wheelchairs, on foot with their seeing-eye dogs, and with their canes to demand money for health care and human needs, not for occupation and corporate greed. The Palestinian activists who refused to allow frightened liberal 'leaders' of the 10:30 action to strip the issue of Israeli occupation and violence from the day. And a lot of regular folks from those same liberal groups that came to the Michigan Ave. convergence anyway, even though their self-appointed leaders organized a competing event because they didn't want the 'ultra's' to allow core issues like the occupation of Palestine and the naked evil of U.S. imperialism to 'weaken' the anti-war message.

And of course, the fact that thousands of people refused to be intimidated by the cops' constant carping about our lack of a permit and came to converge and march anyway.

Oh, yeah, and the Anti-War Marching Band. They came in floral, spring-like attire this time, instead of their characteristic 'Uncle Sam' skeleton costumes, and, as always, they rocked.

This was not a perfect action, but it was not a perfect disaster, either.

Shout-outs to the people who refused to be cowed by the cops' scare tactics and came to march -- incuding veterans, military moms, anarchists, students, seniors, suburbanites, passers-by who decided to join up, and people across the region who believe another world is possible. Shame on the people who catered to the cops' scare tactics, and criticized the convening groups for being too 'militant'. Indeed. If anything, we needed to carry an even stronger message of opposition to U.S. imperialism abroad, opposition to the growing U.S. jack-boot state at home, and opposition to the core source of this evil -- corporate greed and capitalism everywhere.

King Daley whined today that a Michigan Ave. march would have prevented shoppers from buying those vital consumer goods, for, like an hour or two. Oh, really? Wonder how the upwards of 10,000 dead Iraqi's would feel about those kinds of priorities? Daley also tsk tsked the fact that LOCAL cops had to be deployed downtown to 'police' people who were protesting FEDERAL policy, instead of undertaking their primary responsibility, which is to terrorize people in communities of the public well-being. A proposal to Daley: next time tell the local cops to stay at home! We're quite capable of marching down our streets without you, even though you were invited to stand and march with your constituents instead of selling them out once again, you spineless, hypocritical, autocratic corporate hack.

One valuable lesson that was learned today was that you don't have to sanitize your message for people to come. That means you don't have to sweep the issue of U.S. support for the occupation of Palestine under the rug. You don't have to softshoe the issue of corporate greed and domination and the key role it plays in shaping U.S. policy. And you don't have to wring your hands and cater to the craven sell-outs in the Democratic party to have a 'nice' action -- because if you have the momentum, they'll show up anyway to try to pimp your message and your medium.

I just hope the people who showed up today revel in one reality above all others -- YOU came, and you made this action possible. Not 'leaders'. Not 'spokespeople'. Not the organizers or other volunteers on the ground. You. And however this particular action parses out in the corporate press, your willingness to step out and speak truth to power shows that together we can build this movement, free of the politics of division and fear-mongering, and change our world.



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