At a press conference at Occupy Chicago’s headquarters, representatives from various groups outlined what they plan to do during the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Chicago on May 20-21. They also addressed how Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the city, along with the Secret Service, have not fully respected the First Amendment rights of people planning demonstrations.
Jan Rodolfo of National Nurses United shared an update on the city’s decision to pull a permit and deny them the right to protest in Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago. As an alternative, the city is trying to get the union to move just outside the Loop and hold their rally in Grant Park.
Emanuel and the city claims the nature of their rally changed because guitarist for Rage Against the Machine, Tom Morello, is planning to perform an acoustic set. The city believes this will attract an uncontrollable number of people. But the city is being disingenuous because the nurses have not been hiding the fact that Morello would perform and “top aides” of the mayor knew about it.
The nurses are planning to march from Sheraton Hotel, where President Barack Obama will be staying. They are in talks with the ACLU and intend to file a federal lawsuit against the city for changing their permit.
Andy Thayer of the Coalition Against the NATO/G8 War and Poverty Agenda (CANG8) said he was proud to stand with the nurses in their fight with the city to exercise their free speech rights.
CANG8 has been organizing since the summer of last year. They are not having the problems the nurses union is having just weeks before the summit because the city already trotted out the same disingenuous argument that they would have too many people and police would not be able to control the protest. According to Joe Iosbaker of CANG8, they went to court to stop the city from yanking their permit for Daley Plaza, but the judge sided with the city and moved a planned rally on May 20 to Petrillo Bandshell in Grant Park.
Iosbaker said the city is treating every expression of the First Amendment as a problem to be contained and they intend to use a number of methods—a frustrating permitting process, the placement of restrictions on permit, the addition of greater penalties for any arrests or anything that happens, a massive police force to suppress protest, the tying up of protest planning in endless bureaucratic red tape.
“If you include the Occupy forces, I think something on the order of the magnitude of 10,000 hours were spent [in the past] year protesting for the right to protest,” Iosbaker concluded.
Thayer celebrated Occupy Chicago saying initially they were criticized for having too narrow of a focus but “Occupy rapidly learned to focus not just on the economic but on the political and on the military.
“They got it,” Thayer declared. “They were not fooled when President Obama pulled the G8 summit from Chicago. They knew that NATO represented the de facto military arm of the G8.”
A reporter asked typical establishment media questions. She wanted to know, since the G8 summit was moved to Camp David, what the expectations for the protests during NATO are, whether those expectations are lower than originally thought, and if the groups think they can unify people. The questions are loaded because the impetus is that the groups need to get so many people out or, if they don’t, that will prove NATO is not as bad as they claim. They don’t have any real way of knowing if numbers will be lower than they would have if the G8 were still happening in Chicago. Nobody can ever know. And the reporter is essentially suggesting they won’t have a single message, people will have issues competing against one another for attention, and groups there should do something about it and come together, which ignores the fact that they do have a message—“NATO is the war machine of the 1%.”
Nonetheless, Rachael Perrotta of Occupy Chicago handled this reporter’s idiocy quite well:
There are thousands of people from all over the world coming to Chicago to protest NATO. The 99 Solidarity Buses are gathering people from New York and Boston, from Atlanta and Oakland and LA and San Francisco and everywhere in between and bringing them here for free to stand in the streets with Nurses United, to stand in the streets with veterans and to march against NATO and the 1% war machine. We expect huge crowds and huge crowds will happen as long as Chicago comes out and doesn’t believe the fearmongering of the mayor.
Not to be outdone by her previous questions, the same reporter followed up with a question about how they would handle the fact that Occupy was dwindling. Perrotta smiled then boldly shot down this suggestion: “Although Occupy Chicago has not been in the streets in such numbers as we were in the fall, you’ll remember that on April 7 we had nearly 2000 people participating in a day of community actions.”
She added, “The Occupy movement is not dwindling. The Occupy movement is strong.”
Michael McConnell of NATO Free Future noted he was wearing a suit. He suggested other protesters might wear a suit and poked fun at the ridiculous idea from at least one business owner that people should dress like occupiers so they don’t get beat up or targeted on their way to work.
Business owners have been scaremongering in Chicago pretty much since protesters began to announce plans for demonstrations last year. The hysterical nature of the scaremongering has escalated exponentially. At this point, it seems as if someone from Stratfor is feeding businesses advice.
A Latino woman had a representative of Occupy Chicago clear up any misconception about how white the protests might be during the NATO summit. In the week of action that Occupy has planned, there will be a “No Human is Illegal Day of Action,” to address the issue of segregation in the city of Chicago.
From the mental health movement, an African American woman talked about the effort to save clinics in Chicago that are being shut down. She announced the movement was expanding its campaign to the Northwestern Mental Health Clinic in Logan Square at 2354 N. Milwaukee. The clinic, which serves a predominantly Latino community, has been around for 30 years. Now Emanuel wants to shut it down.
We know that we can count on the people mobilizing for the NATO demonstrations to respond to our call with the tactic of non-violence and in a way that continues to lift up the voices of those of us whose lives hang in the balance of this struggle. We are clear that our enemy is the system that deprives us of healthcare and other basic human rights, the politicians that administer that system, and the 1% who profit from it, not the police sent in to do Mayor 1%’s dirty work. Just as Occupy Chicago has stood with us, taken arrests with us, and been a true example of dignity and solidarity, we know that you too will see that our causes are one and the same and that we have nothing to lose and everything to gain by connecting local and global struggles.
Iraq War veteran Aaron Hughes, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, plans to march with other veterans on May 20 from Petrillo Bandshell to McCormick Place. The veterans had planned to hold a ceremony to give back their medals. However, the city is denying their right to protest, too, and has demanded they not hold any kind of ceremony at the end of the march.
One group, CANG8, has a permit for a march. It is the one the veterans plan to lead. Other actions will unfold, but they will occur without permits. This is sure to lead to arrests and possible police harassment and violence against protesters, especially since Emanuel had the city pass protest ordinances restricting First Amendment activities.
The actions of Emanuel make it seem as if the Constitution is going to be suspended. There will be a security perimeter that will greatly restrict movement in and around the city. There will likely be armed patrols that turn Chicago into a militarized “Red Zone.” That does not mean people should stay in their homes and not come out and raise their voice if they want to demonstrate against NATO. As Thayer reminded people, at no point has the First Amendment “been annulled.”
He made it clear that no one should be intimidated by the city. Everyone has a right to congregate as long as they are not blocking people from going about their business. Occupy Chicago has been about this all along. They have stood up for First Amendment rights and been clamped down on by the city.
Who should be held responsible if there are violations of free speech rights during the NATO summit? Thayer concluded not only should Emanuel be blamed but President Obama should be blamed as well.
“One telephone call from President Obama would clear up the situation with the nurses’ permits, would clear up any other permit situation,” Thayer said. “This president has got to say to Rahm Emanuel, “Cut the hell out. Guarantee people’s First Amendment rights in the city of Chicago.’”
*Here is video of some of the representatives from groups who spoke at the press conference: