Following a month-long dispute with city officials, a coalition of anti-NATO demonstrators will be allowed to march through downtown May 20 in protest of the upcoming NATO summit.
On April 4, city officials granted the Coalition Against the NATO/G8 War & Poverty Agenda, an alliance created to protest the G8 and NATO summits in Chicago, a permit to march from the Petrillo Bandshell in Grant Park to McCormick Place, 2301 S. Lakeshore Drive, where the May 20–21 summit will be held.
CANG8 Organizer Andy Thayer is heartened by the city’s approval, but said he does not believe it marks the end of their struggle.
“We’re obviously pleased, but at the same time our pleasure is tempered by the fact that we know this is probably not the final chapter in this story,” Thayer said.
As reported by The Chronicle on Jan. 17, the group was granted permission for a May 19 march from Daley Plaza, at the corner of Washington and Dearborn streets, to McCormick Place. But in light of the G8’s relocation to Camp David in Maryland, the group sought to change its protest date to align with the new May 20 opening day of the NATO summit, resulting in pushback from the city.
CANG8 organizer Joe Iosbaker said Chicago Department of Transportation officials denied the group’s request to move its permit and the already-approved march route to the following day because there would not be “adequate” numbers of on-duty police to patrol the area on a Sunday.
“We had a permit for a march from Daley Plaza for the 19th, which was just fine and dandy with the city,” Thayer said. “You move one date, and in this situation there are half the summits there were before, and the city is suddenly saying it doesn’t have enough police personnel.”
Iosbaker said CANG8 appealed the city’s decision but lost.
According to Roderick Drew, spokesman for the city’s Law Department, the city then “worked with [Iosbaker] to accommodate his revised [permit] application.”
The CDOT verbally presented the protesters with an alternative route beginning at the Petrillo Bandshell rather than Daley Plaza and following a path similar to the original—south on State Street, then south on Michigan Avenue toward McCormick Place.
Iosbaker said his group “didn’t like [the new route] as much” but agreed to accept the proposal as long as the city put it in writing by 5 p.m. on April 4. Along with this request, CANG8 asked that the fee for using Petrillo Bandshell be waived and that Mayor Rahm Emanuel urge the Secret Service not to interfere with its protest.
In an April 4 letter to Thayer from CDOT Assistant Commissioner Mike Simon, the route was put in writing and CANG8’s demands were addressed. The $40,000 fee for the Petrillo Bandshell was waived, but the request to dissuade Secret Service officials from interfering was denied.
According to the letter, “such security perimeters are established by the Secret Service, whose responsibility it is to protect the President of the United States and other heads of state, without any input from the City and based solely on security considerations.”
Although Simon’s letter maintains that the city cannot guarantee the Secret Service’s actions, Drew said the City of Chicago would not get in the way.
“The city is committed to allowing [Thayer’s] organization to express its First Amendment rights while balancing it with our obligation to keep the participants safe as they express their rights and to keep the city as a whole safe,” Drew said.
As city officials assure the protesters that their rights will be maintained, some remain skeptical.
“Both the Emanuel and Daley administrations have gone out of their way and sidelined anti-war activists in these ridiculous fights over permits because frankly they’re pursuing a political agenda,” Thayer said.
According to him, the supposed political agenda is exercised through ordinances and permits to stifle free speech.
“They know that if we are effectively able to exercise the First Amendment that we can win people to being against the wars of the Obama and Bush administrations,” Thayer said. “When we do that, it becomes a bit more difficult for them to pursue those pro-war agendas.”