CHICAGO - Anti-war protesters on Tuesday warned Chicago that what they called draconian measures to isolate as many as 10,000 people expected to protest during a NATO summit in May threatened to repeat mistakes that led to violent clashes at the 1968 Democratic Convention.
Anti-war protesters who were denied a permit to march on the NATO meeting on May 20 accused city leaders of playing games with their right to demonstrate peacefully and said they would be dissatisfied if limited to “a meaningless walk in the park.” The protesters were initially granted a permit to rally and march on May 19 to mark the back-to-back G8 and NATO summits being hosted by Chicago. But when the G8 summit was moved to Camp David they asked to push the rally date forward one day to coincide with the NATO summit, May 20-21.
The permit application called for 5,000 demonstrators, but organizers said it could grow to 10,000 or more protesting a decade of war in Afghanistan against the Taliban and al-Qaeda by the United States and its NATO allies.
The city denied the second protest permit, saying the NATO summit would require motorcades transporting 5,000 people and that a demonstration would pose problems with traffic and safety and overtax police resources. The city offered an alternative: assemble in lakefront Grant Park, where President Barack Obama declared victory on the night of his November 2008 election win, and take a slightly different route to the summit site.
But protest organizers rejected the alternative site and appealed to a city administrative court judge o n T uesday, arguing that a rally in Grant Park would take them out of the spotlight.
They feared the U.S. Secret Service could order the protesters kept in the park and away from the summit and the downtown area where delegate hotels are located.
“It would be a meaningless walk in the park,” organizer Andy Thayer said.
Thayer recalled former Mayor Richard J. Daley’s attempt to drive out anti-Vietnam War protesters who descended on the 1968 Democratic convention, which was marred by violent confrontations with police in city streets and parks. The 1968 confrontations have marred Chicago’s reputation ever since.
“There will be plenty of people very angry at Mayor (Rahm) Emanuel” Thayer said outside the courthouse. Emanuel is a former White House chief of staff for Obama.
“The problems in 1968 began when Mayor Richard J. Daley denied all reasonable permit applications,” he said. “So Mayor Emanuel, if you learn something from history, don’t follow the example of Richard J. Daley.”
Earlier this year, the Chicago City Council passed Emanuel’s request to limit the hours for public use of city parks and impose other restrictions, with the NATO and G8 meetings in mind. In response to criticism, Emanuel eased the restrictions.
Harvey Grossman of the American Civil Liberties Union said the ordinance reinforced the city’s reputation for dealing strictly with protests.
City officials have insisted they want to balance the rights of the protesters with public safety.
“Chicago has made it more difficult to get permits compared to other cities,” said Sue Basko, a lawyer working with the protesters. But she praised Chicago police for their handling of recent Occupy Wall Street protests, which were generally peaceful and resulted in fewer arrests compared to other cities.