NATO/G8 Working Group at press conference in November 2011. (photo: Fight Back News)

(update below)

The city of Chicago has finally awarded Chicago groups seeking to organize a demonstration during an upcoming NATO/G8 meeting a permit, but the city now claims the parameters of the permit awarded depend on the federal government. Additionally, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has proposed two ordinances that will come up for a vote in the City Council, which would place significant restrictions on First Amendment activities.

Joe Iosbaker, lead organizer of the NATO/G8 Working Group in Chicago, reports the permit process will be scrutinized by the Secret Service. They may allow a protest in the location and a march on the route approved by the city or they may not. It all depends on the “security perimeter” that is set around McCormick Place, the convention center where the meetings are to be held from May 15 to May 22. And,  it also depends on the “security perimeter” set around the five major hotels up and down Michigan Avenue where heads of state and other officials are expected to be staying.

“If they establish something egregious like a one mile perimeter around each of those [places], that would eliminate protest from 31st St to North Ave,” says Iosbaker.  “I don’t want to say that is what is going to happen but we fear they are going to use their national security event status to suspend the Constitution.”

The permit granted allows a rally at Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago at 1:30 pm on Saturday, May 19. It allows a march from the plaza to McCormick Place and, according to Iosbaker, a brief “30-minute closing rally on a dead end street adjacent to the back entrance to one of the buildings at McCormick Place.”

The group had been pushing for the permits as early as July of last year.

Since December 14, the group has been rallying opposition to two proposed ordinances that Emanuel claims are needed for when the meetings are hosted in May. The group opposes both ordinances and has support from civil libertarians, Occupy Chicago, labor unions, community organizations and faith-based groups.

The opposition has actually forced Emanuel to go back and revise the ordinances he wants to pass, but Andy Thayer, who is also a lead organizer with the NATO/G8 Working Group, has examined the revised ordinances and discovered the “most outrageous” parts of Emanuel’s proposals remain intact.

Every march application would require “a description of any recording equipment, sound amplification equipment, banners, signs, or other attention-getting devices to be used in connection with the parade.” So march organizers would have to accurately vet every sign, banner, bullhorn – months in advance – or be subject to fines under the new ordinance.

The minimum fine in the new proposal would “only” quadruple, from $50 to $200, as opposed to increasing 20-fold in Rahm’s original proposal. The maximum fine would remain at $1000, with a possible 10 days jail time as well.

All of the odious anti-”public assembly” provisions remain in the new version of the ordinance, so once again, Occupy Chicago meetings, union pickets and other sidewalk activities could be punishable if Rahm’s revised ordinance proposals go through.

The revised parade ordinance would designate “virtually every march in the downtown area” as a “large march,” which means protest organizers would be required to have $1 million in insurance to cover the costs of city services that might be used to contain, control or suppress the protest. Thayer notes the “hasty” rewrite reads, “No permit shall be issued until the parade organizer provides proof of the insurance,” and later in the ordinance, “At least one week prior to the scheduled parade, the parade organizer shall furnish to the commissioner documents demonstrating compliance with the insurance requirement.”

It also stipulates if “a sufficient number of on-duty police officers, or other city employees authorized to regulate traffic” are not available, a permit can be “nixed.” The revised parade ordinance would require organizers to provide the city with “a description of any recording equipment, sound amplification equipment, banners, signs, or other attention-getting devices to be used in connection with the parade” at least a week in advance of the march.” And, protest organizers would have to “report contingents in the march and the order in which they would appear would have to be registered at least a week in advance with the City.” If not registered properly, protest organizers could fined up to $1000. This means, as Iosbaker says, “forgetting to say the Workers’ World Party is coming could cost you” big time.

The ordinance would require “one [parade] marshal for every 100 participants.”

Finally, as if those weren’t restrictive enough, the rewrite of the parade ordinance includes a provision that grants the city’s Department of Transportation to propose rules and implement them.

Thayer reacts to this provision: “Given Rahm’s belligerence against protesters and hostility to the Left in general – which he infamously labeled as “fucking retarded” — this clause is unfettered license for him to sneak a lot of BS in the back door without the formality of a City Council vote.”

The two ordinances come up for markup in two City Council committees on Tuesday, January 17. The Committee on Special Events, Cultural Affairs and Recreation will be overseeing the ordinance that would set requirements for parade permits and public assemblies. The Committee on Budget and Government Operations will be overseeing a second ordinance that would allow no-bid contracts, the deputizing of “law enforcement,” and increase the fines for “resisting arrest.” The ordinances are then likely to come up for a vote on Wednesday, January 18.

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The Chicago Sun-Times recently reported on the aldermen in Chicago who are speaking out against the proposed ordinances. Ald. Scott Waguespack says, “It’s an affront to the right to free speech. I understand you have serious international actors coming into town and there needs to be restrictions. But, we can’t let it go over the top.” Ald. Michele Smith says, “As people who were around in the `60’s, we didn’t face those kinds of fines to protest the war in Vietnam,” the proposal to raise the possible fine for resisting arrest to $1,000 “seems very high.” And, Ald. Ameya Pawar said his constituents have “bombarded” him with “complaints” on how Emanuel has “gone too far.” Pawar says they do not want to see laws in place that will “limit protests” because that could “inflame people.”

Occupy Chicago may be part of the reason why aldermen are speaking out on the proposed ordinances. According to Evelyn DeHais, the press liaison for Occupy Chicago, the group’s Direct Action Committee has been engaged in a campaign called “Operation Roll Call,” where they have been going to aldermen’s offices to talk to them about the ordinances. Occupy Chicago believes this has had an effect on Emanuel’s efforts to push them through the City Council.

Originally, Iosbaker says, Chicago media reported the ordinances would go through the City Council without any opposition because nobody would want to challenge Emanuel.

“Opposition from the grassroots made the restrictions a social question that the city council members had to respond to,” explained Iosbaker.

But that isn’t good enough. There is little justification for the ordinances. Emanuel would like the changes to be permanent restrictions that would regulate protests even after the NATO/G8 meetings happen in May. DeHais argues Emanuel lied and outright misrepresented the ordinances. Now, he wants to “limit protest” into the future.

Iosbaker suggests if these ordinances had been in effect in 2006, when major immigrant rights marches happened, the ordinances would have potentially made this activism from the Latino community illegal. And DeHais adds they would really have an impact on communities that typically do not have a voice and who have been “disproportionately affected by cuts to public services” in the city.

Like Thayer told the Sun-Times, the city’s issuance of a permit shows that there are ordinances on the books that are adequate enough for “large public events” in Chicago. The proposed changes have been condemned by “civil liberties experts who reviewed them.” They should be withdrawn by the city and Emanuel should back off from his campaign to permanently enact restrictions against what many consider to be protected activities under the First Amendment.

Update

More notable community leaders are weighing in and voicing their opposition.

Karen GJ Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, declares, “We teach our students that free speech, public protest and civic participation are the hallmarks of democracy in our nation…The plan to restrict Chicagoan’s First Amendment rights and impose huge fines on those who dare to stand up for what they believe sends the wrong message to over 400,000 CPS students who’ve been taught our civil liberties exist so we might keep those entrust accessible and accountable.”

Rev. Jesse Jackson states, “Human rights earned by years of struggle and hope must not be vanquished in a moment of fear…And so we march to preserve that which is intrinsic to the integrity of our nation and our self-worth. I appeal to the mayor to honor time-honored principles of our democracy. The right to fight for our rights is what democracy looks like. So long as our fight is nonviolent and transparent, our rights must be honored.”

Registered nurse Martese Chism adds, “From the perspective of a nurse who was arrested while providing first-aid care to protestors, Mayor Emanuel’s aggressive treatment of peaceful protesters this past year has been disgraceful…And with his proposed ordinance changes, he wants to further repress the 99 percent by attacking our constitutional rights of free speech and assembly.”

Also, Occupy Chicago has put out a more formal statement in the last hour:

The proposed ordinance changes contain a “a host of bureaucratic tools, created by and for the 1 percent to relegate, abridge, fine, arrest, and silence our speech. It is an attempt to bully and intimidate with increased police power and fines the brave working people who demand the ability to participate democratically in the organizing of our society. It is an attempt, by the 1 percent, to restrict and regulate the voice of the people when it upsets the structure that put them in power. The timing of the ordinance demonstrates that it has nothing to do with public safety but that its sole purpose is to stifle the voice and trample upon the constitutional liberties of all the people of Chicago.”