Protesters Restricted

By Kaley Fowler

To ensure that things run smoothly when Chicago hosts the G8 and NATO summits this May, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the City Council have spent much time planning for these sometimes controversial events. But it is Emanuel’s most recent initiative to corral protestors that has many

Chicagoans outraged.

At a Dec. 14 City Council meeting, Emanuel introduced his plan to amend several provisions of the Municipal Code in regard to protest activity at the upcoming summits. The provisions, contrary to the public’s initial assumption, will not be lifted when the summits leave Chicago but instead will remain in effect.

Included in the provisions are stipulations that prohibit any person from using public parks between 11 p.m. – 6 a.m. daily, a requirement that protest groups have one parade marshal for every 100 participants and a two-hour time limit for all demonstrations.

The amendments also include a provision granting Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy the authority to deputize any law enforcement personnel who he sees fit during protest activity. Along with Emanuel’s new set of rules, fines for resisting police will more than double from the previous charge of $25–$500, to anywhere from $200–$1,000.

All groups planning to protest the summits are required to obtain a parade permit from the city. According to Joe Iosbaker, spokesman for the United National Antiwar Committee, whose group has made several attempts to get the right to march at Daley Plaza, 50 W. Washington St., the task has proven difficult so far.

Iosbaker explained that the UNAC tried for months to set up meetings with city officials to discuss the conditions of their plans to protest, but these were ignored. In November 2011, the group received a notice from the managers of Daley Plaza informing them that no one would be allowed to assemble outside Daley Plaza during the summits from May 15–22.

Following their six-month struggle to gain rights to protest outside Daley Plaza, Iosbaker was informed that the UNAC’s application for a parade permit was approved by the city on Jan. 12. However, because the summits have been declared a national special security event, the Secret Service must now review and approve the UNAC’s request before the group can follow through with the protest.

Iosbaker added that the UNAC has no “knowledge of any process, of any policy, of any rules or guidelines under which the Secret Service will be making their decision.” With this advancement in their protest initiative, the UNAC currently awaits word from the federal government regarding its pending parade permit.

“We feel that the federal government should, as the city has, recognize our First Amendment rights to assemble and to bring our message to these heads of state,” Iosbaker said.

While the UNAC awaits the Secret Service’s decision, Emanuel’s proposal remains a topic of heavy debate in Chicago.

“This proposal will act as one more tool to assist the City of Chicago in preparing, planning and coordinating for a successful event,” said Gary Schenkel, executive director for the Office of Emergency Management and Communications, in a written statement.

While city officials claim that the provisions will help to maintain order during the summits, skepticism still surrounds the proposed legislative update.

“I think one of the elements here that needs to be part of the discussion is really the fact that we need to figure out how these rules will interact with whatever plan the city ultimately announces for that event and what impact that will have on free speech in Chicago,” said Ed Yohnka, director of communications and public policy for the American Civil Liberties Union.

“From our perspective, that’s an issue, whatever happens with this particular set of rules, that we need to keep our eye on.”

The question of whether or not First Amendment rights will be violated as a result of the new provisions is one that plagues many planning to protest this May.

According to Tom Alexander, spokesman for the mayor, the provisions are intended “to protect people’s First Amendment rights, while ensuring public safety.”

Despite reassurance from city officials that the First Amendment will be protected through the new rules, many protest groups are still wary of the assertion’s validity.

“The restrictions are extremely ominous,” said Joe Lombardo, co-chair of the UNAC. “[These restrictions] are made to destroy protests. We need to be protesting the policies.”

The new policy is to be reviewed by the City Council on Jan. 18.