Chicago passes new restrictions, guidelines for public assembly

By Chris Loeber

The City Council has passed amendments to the ordinance that dictates how Chicago handles public assemblies, a move that city officials defend as appropriate and fair. However, those who disagree say it may limit First Amendment rights.

In preparation for demonstrations anticipated during the upcoming May G8 and NATO summits, the decision was made by the City Council Jan. 18 to update Chicago’s decades-old parade ordinance. The administration contends that the changes will streamline the permit application process and protect the rights of free speech and peaceful assembly for traditional parades in Chicago.

“Chicago is home to many diverse cultures and communities that celebrate their heritage with a variety of parades in different neighborhoods,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a written statement. “Adopting this ordinance helps ensure that parades with long-standing ties to their communities continue, and at the same time it ensures that public assemblies do not face penalties if they suddenly become parades as residents exercise their rights to freedom of speech.”

Tom Alexander, spokesman for the Mayor’s Office, said the ordinance has not been reviewed in 40 years.

“I think the mayor felt like it was time—we all felt like it was time—to re-examine these laws and make sure they were modern, thoughtful and appropriate ordinances,” Alexander said. “This is going to accomplish two things: protecting peoples’ First Amendment right to assemble and keeping the city safe.”

Amendments to the ordinance were passed with a 45-4 City Council vote. The changes include a restriction on the use of sound-amplification devices from

10 p.m. – 8 a.m.

Other modifications include a waiver on fees and insurance, proof of which is normally required to obtain a permit, if such requirements would limit First

Amendment rights.

David Orlikoff, a recent Columbia graduate and member of the Occupy Chicago Press Committee, said the ordinance changes are for the purpose of establishing laws that marginalize protesters rather than protecting First Amendment rights.

In Section 3 of the parade ordinance, a minor change to the wording of a sentence that defines a “large parade” may give the city more flexibility than it used to have by potentially identifying public assemblies as large parades and therefore apply the restrictions outlined in the ordinance, Orlikoff said.

“It is a clear example of the shock doctrine and what happened with the Bush regime after 9/11,” he said. “It is using G8 and NATO as an excuse to advance a totalitarian agenda and to achieve executive power.”

Occupy Chicago is planning to coordinate its protests with other Occupy movements throughout the country during the summits, said Mike Herbert, a member of the Housing Committee at Occupy Chicago.

Orlikoff said the movement has established a working group to facilitate cooperation between Occupy Chicago and other protest groups, but it will not assume a leadership role or control the efforts of other demonstrators.

“We do not yet have a specific schedule of actions for what we are doing at NATO and G8,” Orlikoff said.