Preliminary plans for NATO, G-8 protests

By Gregory Cappis

Thousands of signs and chanting protestors are expected to fill the streets of Chicago in May 2012 during the G-8 and NATO summits.

Activists have already begun planning marches and rallies. Various security programs are being put in place to ensure the safety of every person involved. A battle is already looming between the protestors, who want to exercise their First Amendment rights, and Chicago law enforcement, which must make sure people are allowed these rights yet participate in a peaceful manner.

The city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications faces the task of ensuring civil liberties as well as safety.

“We must find a way to balance the First and Fourth Amendment rights with the safety of the attendees,” said OEMC Director of Public Relations Roderick Drew.

The Chicago Police Department did not respond to phone calls and emails regarding their security plans. A spokeswoman for McCormick Place said she could not comment on security measures at this time.

Pat Hunt, along with more than 100 people, attended last month’s meeting where protestors laid out preliminary plans.

“We are going to have a legal, permitted, family-friendly march,” Hunt said of Chicago’s chapter of Code Pink and Peace Action, two civil rights groups fighting for social justice.

The marches are planned for May 15 and 19, according to Hunt. She doesn’t know the exact number but expects thousands of people will attend.

The protestors are running into a proverbial wall in the permit process. They must receive a permit from the city to be allowed to hold rallies and marches down city streets.

“We have put in permits for places near McCormick Place,” said Joe Lombardo of the United National Anti-War Committee. “We were originally told it would take nearly two weeks [to get the permits]. It’s now been [approximately] 12 weeks.”

The permit laws require the protestors to file for permits in the same calendar year as the planned rally. This means the protesters must wait until January 2012 to officially file for their permits.

“We’re trying to work with the city to get some preliminary approval because we’re pretty sure the city is already working on security. We are just asking for the same consideration,” Hunt said.

The protesters are hoping to march within half a block to a block from McCormick Place so that officials who are making decisions behind closed doors will hear them, Hunt said.

In past events similar to these summits, such as political conventions, protesters have been placed in designated “free speech zones” miles away from the event.

“For them to define an area, which they usually make very small and put very far away and say that’s where we can have free speech and nowhere else, is an attempt to abridge the Constitution of the United States,” Lombardo said.

If this were the case, it would be “unquestionably unacceptable,” said Hunt, who added she “would keep it clean” because she was on the record.

The protest groups will be training nonviolent monitors to make sure the protesters do not get out of hand, according to Lombardo.

There are also issues of protesters’ Fourth Amendment rights, along with the freedom of speech topics.

Many times people are subjected to searches and surveillance in these “free speech zones,” said Matthew Lippman, professor of criminology and political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The Chronicle previously reported on Sept. 12 that these summits have altered the spring semester at Columbia. Hunt believes this is a mistake because they are planning a family-friendly, peaceful march. It will be a great educational opportunity for students, she said.

“There’s a counter-summit planned for [May] 18, and there’s going to be a speaking tour,” Hunt said.

The counter-summit and speaking tour will give people an opportunity to hear what Hunt refers to as the alternate voice, ideas opposite those of NATO.

Although many protesters have various reasons for wanting to express their opinions, most will join to protest the actual summits and the money the city is spending on them.

“We think money should be used instead for the people of Chicago and not for these organizations,” Lombardo said. “We will be trying to bring in all the communities, unions and anti-war activists. We hope to have a broad front of people [who] will join us.”