Chicago's NATO Summit vs. the 1st Amendment – Why We Are Appealing the City's Attack on Our Right to March

City “alternative” march route would allow authorities to “kettle” NATO protesters in Grant Park, deny 1st Amendment rights

Chicago Officials are using the new ‘Sit Down and Shut Up’ ordinances to deny protest permit they had previously approved

CHICAGO — Late Thursday afternoon, the Coalition Against the NATO/G8 War & Poverty Agenda (CANG8) appealed the City’s rejection of our permit application for a march on the opening day of the NATO Summit here – Sunday, May 20.

CANG8 will have a mass, non-violent march on May 20th, and it is our intention to secure a permit to do so.  Out-of-towners should make their travel plans accordingly.

The City’s rejection of our permit to march has to be seen in the context of decades of efforts by Chicago mayors to sideline and diminish anti-war voices.  We believe that our struggle for the right to peacefully march on May 20th, without police or other government harassment, is much bigger than any one organization or group of individuals.

We have a responsibility to undertake this struggle not just for our own 1st Amendment freedoms, but for all who wish to regain the freedoms that have diminished so frightfully over the past few years.

To reverse this attack on the right to protest in our city, we need your help in three ways:

1) Please plan on attending the appeals hearing at 10:30 AM, next Tuesday, March 27 at 400 W. Superior Street, Room 111;

2) Please share this notice widely – email it to your friends and list-serves.  If you are on Facebook, please go to the Facebook event page here, invite your FB friends, and post the link widely on Facebook and other social media; and,

3) Contact the Mayor’s office with your messages of protest.  Call 312.744.5000 or go here http://webapps.cityofchicago.org/eforms/org/cityofchicago/eforms/controller/contactUsForm/preFeedbackForm.do to email your complaint.

Background to the Current Struggle

On January 3rd – the earliest legally permissible date – CANG8 applied with the City for a permit to march from Daley Plaza to the edge of McCormick Place on May 19, the day that would soon be designated as the first date of the joint G8 and NATO summits in Chicago.  The permit was rapidly granted by the City, without reservation.

On March 13, the day after the White House yanked the G8 portion of the summits from Chicago, in apparent response to growing controversy, CANG8 applied for the exact same march route and time as we had previously, but for May 20, the new opening date of the diminished summit.  The City’s Assistant Director of Transportation, Michael Simon, told a CANG8 representative that “we think we can turn this around for you [i.e., grant approval] today.”

But despite repeated calls to them through the course of the week, the City waited until March 18, the last possible date on which they could legally do so, to respond with a rejection of the CANG8 application to march on May 20th.

Their reasoning? That there are not “a sufficient number of on-duty police officers or other city employees” to deal with the proposed May 20th march. But given that the G8 meeting is now relocated to Camp David and Sundays have less civilian traffic than Saturdays, arguably the City would have significantly greater police resources available for our protest on May 20th.

But there was another agenda at work.  By claiming that the City does not have sufficient “on-duty” personnel, Chicago officials were now utilizing the language of the new “sit-down and shut-up” ordinances to justify their rejection of the permit. Under the old ordinance, the city could only reject an application if there were not “a sufficient number of peace officers and traffic control aides” — on- or off-duty.

If the City truly lacked sufficient police and other resources to host the summits and accommodate meaningful expressions of the First Amendment, then City officials should have declined to host the summits in the first place.

The Real Agenda Behind the City’s Permit Rejection

Under the terms of the old and new parade permit ordinance, the City is required to offer a “comparable” alternative route to any proposed march route it rejects.  In our experience, the City’s “comparable” alternatives are seldom that.  This was time was no exception.

We rejected the City’s “comparable” routes for three reasons:

1) Starting at the Petrillo Band Shell as the City proposed would vastly enhance authorities’ ability to “kettle” peace activists in Grant Park, far from the NATO summits, and derail our First Amendment rights to free speech. 
 Kettling — unconstitutionally surrounding demonstrators, isolating and preventing them from leaving — has become a common practice for police departments around the country in recent years, and was used by the by the Chicago Police Department in 2003 to take revenge on a mass march at the start of the Iraq War (the ultimate result was a $6.5 million settlement for protesters reached last month).

The City is already pressuring National Nurses United to end their Friday, May 18 march at Hutchinson Field at the south end of Grant Park, even though NNU has both a march permit and rally permit that would have them end at Daley Plaza.

We have two sources from within the City’s side who have confirmed that the City wants all marches on the summit to end at Hutchinson Field, at the southeast end of the Grant Park, using the federal government’s “security perimeter” as the excuse;

2) The City rejected our using Daley Plaza as the starting point for the May 20th march even though we secured an agreement with the other applicant for the Plaza on that day to share the space. 

This is reminiscent of the Public Building Commission’s blanket ban on use of the plaza from May 15-22 (the original dates of the summits) announced in an email to us in November.  But we didn’t take the rejection lying down.  We forced Mayor Emanuel to rescind that ban when we confronted him at a meeting of the PBC with several news cameras whirring.

3) The “comparable” alternative routes that the City offered in its rejection letter and in negotiations following that were seriously flawed in that they either lacked public visibility – a requirement for meaningful expression of the 1st Amendment – or they added much greater length to an already long march route.

CANG8’s Logistics Committee continued negotiations with the City until the last day permissible under the law, twice extending our deadline on that day so that the City could put together its “last and best offer.”  Alas, they stuck to an unreasonable stance of refusing to grant a permit for the same route that they had granted when the summits were to begin a day previously, using transparently disingenuous reasoning to justify their changed stance.

Next Steps 

Our next struggle will be in the courts — and in the court of public opinion.  That’s where you come in.  Our appeal of the City’s permit rejection will be at 10:30 AM next Tuesday, March 27 at the courthouse located at 400 W. Superior, Room 111.

We are committed to holding a peaceful, permitted march to the NATO Summit on Sunday, May 20th. But we won’t be able to do it without your help.  Contact City Hall and voice your protest – call 312.744.5000 or go here.

And next Tuesday morning, please the courtroom – 10:30 AM, 400 W. Superior, Room 111.  Come yourself, invite your friends, spread the word!

Thank you!!

The Logistics Committee of CANG8

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