Occupy Chicago says "in 10 days this will be illegal," now that the ordinances passed

Two ordinances drawn up for controlling protests and maintaining security in the city of Chicago during upcoming NATO/G8 meetings passed through the Chicago City Council today.

The ordinances, which organizers from Occupy Chicago and the Coalition Against the NATO/G8 (CANG8) call “sit down and shut up” ordinances, were proposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and were met with some opposition that led to revisions. But today they passed with only a handful of aldermen voting against the ordinances.

A joint statement released by Occupy Chicago and CANG8 reads:

At 12:30 today, Rahm Emanuel officiated over the death of the Bill of Rights in the City Council chambers.

Ordinances designed to severely restrict First Amendment rights of speech and assembly were presented on December 14th.  The stated target was to prepare to repress protestors during the summits of NATO and the G8.

At first, aldermen and the media all agreed that no one would oppose Emanuel on this.

In response to mayor’s attack on civil liberties, the Coalition Against NATO/G8 War & Poverty Agenda (CANG8) joined together with Occupy Chicago and several unions to unite our efforts to defend of civil liberties in Chicago.  By last week, aldermen had felt so much pressure from constituents that they had to speak out.

Emanuel then moved to withdraw first one, and then another, of the most criticized pieces.  Protests continued to grow; Emanuel retreated further; the protests mounted, and he retreated even further.

Finally, a version was reached that the council opposition could vote for, hoping that the movement would not condemn them.  The final version is still a significant attack on democratic rights; its passage is a defeat for our movement.

The mayor has not achieved his true objective, though.  Emanuel looks at the new Chicago he has inherited, with protestors in so many places, and he wants to put the genie back in the bottle.  It’s not possible.

We have the right to protest against war, austerity, and inequality.  Mayor Emanuel, you’ll see us in the streets of Chicago:  our streets.

Firedoglake and The Dissenter have been covering the ordinances since Emanuel first indicated on December 14 that he would push for the passage of the ordinances. As mentioned, the ordinances were revised but they are still an attack on those who would dare to exercise their First Amendment rights in the city of Chicago. Worst of all, they are permanent changes and do not expire after the NATO/G8 meetings in May.

That is right—Emanuel is using the NATO/G8 meetings as a pretense to force suppressive measures that chip away at Chicagoans’ civil liberties upon the people of Chicago.

Andy Thayer of CANG8 describes the worst aspects of the ordinances that just passed:

  • The minimum fine for violation of the City’s parade permit ordinance would jump four-fold, from $50 to $200.” The maximum penalty would stay at $1000 and/or 10 days in jail
  • Ahead of demonstrations, “organizers would be required to provide the City with a list of all signs, banners, sound equipment or “attention-getting devices” that require more than one person to carry them,” creating “a license for the city to ‘ding’ organizers with absurd fines.”
  • No-bid contracts for NATO/G8 remains intact
  • Provision allowing “deputizing of ‘law enforcement’” is also still in the ordinance. This does not simply include the DEA, the FBI and the Illinois State Police but also “other law enforcement agencies as determined by the superintendent of police to be necessary for the fulfillment of law enforcement functions.” Thayer points out this could mean rent-a-cops, Blackwater, etc.
  • All downtown protest marches would be required to get $1 million insurance coverage to “indemnify the city against any additional or uncovered third party claims against the city arising out of or caused by the parade.” They would have to “agree to reimburse the city for any damage to the public way or city property arising out of or caused by the parade.”

Thayer points out this could mean someone who is not associated with an organization could “crash” the event and cause property damage. The City would then insist organizers pick up the tab.

Additionally, on the issue of registering signs ahead of time, Thayer notes the city has been backpedaling but in the end they really just want to mislead everyone who thinks this is utterly ridiculous:

The City’s grand concession is that its earlier proposal demanded that all signs, banners, etc. be registered. This is now replaced by a requirement that “only” those such signs, etc. that require two or more people to carry them be registered. A mayoral representative, Michelle T. Boom, the Commissioner of the Department of Cultural affairs and Special Events, tried to soft-pedal this provision by implying that there would be no penalty for violation of it. But if that’s so, why include it in the ordinance at all?

Despite revisions, the ACLU argues they are not satisfactory enough. Of particular concern to the ACLU is not the provisions restricting demonstrations but rather the power it grants the city to expand surveillance in Chicago:

…[The proposals continue to contain an ominous provision – the ability of the Mayor to purchase and deploy powerful surveillance cameras across the City without any approval or any oversight. Nearly a year ago, the ACLU of Illinois released a report noting that Chicago’s surveillance camera system – widely recognized as the most expansive and most integrated system in the nation – acts without any public regulation to protect individual privacy. The ACLU called on the City to put a hold on deploying new cameras until the City Council could adopt regulations that require reasonable suspicion before the cameras’ most powerful technologies (zoom, tracking and facial recognition) are used. The ACLU report also called for the City Council to adopt a specific policy on the retention and dissemination of images captured by the cameras.

Occupy Chicago was there to protest the City Council vote on the ordinances, but many of them were not allowed into the chamber. Martin L. Ritter, a community organizer, reported “hundreds” of city employees used their IDs to get into the chamber and occupy seats that Chicagoans opposed to the resolution would have occupied.

On the second floor of city hall, Occupy Chicago reported Chicago police were “assaulting” some of their members. Writer Joe Macare, who was present for the vote, heard a call for “reinforcements.”

Occupy Chicago mic checked during the vote, “The first amendment…is not a privilege…..to those who can afford…..permits, fines & insurance.” They shouted “Shame!” and “Who do you work for?” The shouting echoed through the halls and even people on the 11th floor of City Hall could hear those protesting the ordinances.

Perhaps, this tweet shows best what the effect of these ordinances could be:

It means that voices most often marginalized in society will have a harder time raising their voice without some police officer breathing down their neck informing them that they are violating some city rule that says they cannot exercise their First Amendment rights without doing this or without doing that. It means a march of immigrants where tens of thousands of people poured into the streets of Chicago in 2006 would be criminalized with city authorities identifying people so they could levy fines.

Emanuel and the city council seem to have passed these ordinances to dare Chicagoans to defend their right to dissent. Citizens, especially major activist groups and community organizations in Chicago, are definitely going to respond and continue to build public opposition to these new rules. And civil liberties lawyers will likely jump at the opportunity to challenge the rules in court the first chance they get.