Chicago, IL - A noisy crowd of protesters, with banners demanding, “No to war and occupation,” marched here, Mar. 19. Over 3000 gathered in Federal Plaza at 2:00 p.m. to hear speeches by Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney of Georgia and a marine that refused orders to go to Iraq, among others. They were marking the second anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.
For hours before the rally, a drama played out between the anti-war crowd and the Chicago Police Department. On the one hand, 1500 cops were deployed to stop a noon rally and march from occurring. On the other hand, over 1000 people stood up to this repression. Marches and confrontations took place over a number of hours. The largest showdown was on North Dearborn Street at noon. Hundreds took to the street, demanding the right to march, and refusing to accept a ‘protest spot’ where they were being forced.
Stand Up for Civil Liberties at Home
People first gathered at the intersection of Oak and Michigan, which has major symbolic importance for the anti-war movement in this city. On that spot, on Mar. 19, 2003, Mayor Daley ordered the Chicago Police Department to arrest over 800 people at an emergency response demonstration the night the war started. The arrests took place when the march, which had taken over Lake Shore Drive, tried to proceed down Michigan Avenue, the main commercial area in town.
This act was followed by two years of overwhelming police numbers at major anti-war events, continuing the city’s efforts to intimidate and discourage protest. For their part, the anti-war movement has continued to insist it has the right to resist this imperialist war, including the right to complete the march route we were on that night in March 2003. However, the city has refused the coalition’s repeated requests to go down Michigan Avenue. This year, the coalition went to court in an effort to compel the city to grant a permit. When the judge took the city’s side, the stage was set.
This year, the coalition succeeded in holding a press conference at Oak and Michigan. After that, two leading activists were arrested. The cops then tried to force the hundreds of people arriving at the location several blocks away to a protest area that they had chosen for us.
Powerful Resistance to War and Repression
Meanwhile, hundreds more anti-warriors were arriving in a feeder march that had been swelling for hours. Some had set out to march through a number of neighborhoods since 6 a.m. More gathered at several targets at 10:30. A Palestine solidarity feeder rallied at the Israeli consulate, anti-military recruitment activists had protested the “Army of One” recruitment campaign at the world headquarters of the Leo Burnett ad agency and others marched from the corporate offices of Boeing, one of the main suppliers of military aircraft to the U.S. military. The Colombia Action Network rallied on Michigan Avenue in front of the Colombian consulate, demanding an end to Plan Colombia and the Gay Liberation Network held a rally for gay marriage rights in front of the mansion of Cardinal George. Both of these contingents then joined the anti-war demonstration.
The feeders came together and then moved north, challenging hundreds of cops in riot gear and on horseback. The marchers refused to accept a route on a street with no traffic; then moved off the sidewalk and onto the street. The march was not successful in taking Michigan Avenue, but it did liberate the people trapped in the protest pit. After a lengthy standoff with the cops, the crowd, now totaling nearly 1000 people, turned and marched back into the Loop to the Federal Plaza rally.
Sussan Navabi, one of the tactical leaders of the march and an activist with Students for Social Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago, summed up the success of the march. “This was powerful. We made a strong statement against the occupation and we stood up to the police.”
The March 19th Coalition used the fight with the city to help make the war a social question in Chicago. The good turnout, in spite of the massive harassment by the city, is an important advance for the anti-war movement. It’ll be important to keep the momentum gained from this second anniversary protest.