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Coalition descends on Chicago City Hall to fight for right to protest

Struggle continues against “Sit Down and Shut Up” ordinance
By staff |
January 18, 2012
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Chicago, IL - Over 50 people gathered in City Hall, Jan. 17, to speak out against plans by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to restrict the right to protest. They held a press conference, and then proceeded to pack into two consecutive hearings held by City Council committees.

CANG8 (Coalition Against NATO/G8 War and Poverty Agenda) called the press conference. It bought togather union officials, community activists, faith leaders, anti-war activists and members of Occupy Chicago. CANG8 and Occupy Chicago called for people to stop what Occupy folks termed the “Sit Down and Shut Up” ordinance.

The headline-grabbing restrictions in the ordinance included greatly increased fines for those arrested in protests. (Charges of “Resisting or Interfering with a Police Officer” are among the most common in arrests during protests. In Chicago, “going limp” is considered resisting arrest.) Fines were to be increased from $25 to $200 at a minimum and doubling of the maximum fine to $1,000. Also, the fines for violations during a permitted march would be increased by a multiple of 20, from $50 to $1000.

The ordinances also said that organizers would be required to provide the city with "a description of any recording equipment, sound amplification equipment, banners, signs, or other attention-getting devices to be used in connection with the parade" at least a week in advance of the any march. Plus activists would have to guarantee one parade marshal for every 100 participants, and officials wanted to decrease the amount of time from two hours fifteen minutes to two hours that a march could be in the street.

Why these restrictions now?

Mayor Emanuel is trying to deter protest against NATO and the G8. He is also trying to clamp down on the Occupy Chicago movement that emerged this fall. Since the announcement of the NATO/G8 summits, there has been an intimidating, well publicized build up for heavy handed policing; a campaign to demonize those who might protest, both in the press with the story line that “protests lead to violence,” but also through presentations of “security assessments,” warning of the same thing in private meetings with schools, churches and cultural agencies in the downtown area; an effort at the same time to obstruct permits for rallies/marches; and finally ordinance changes that both further the intimidation of potential protestors and place greater restrictions on those planning permitted assemblies.

Response to Public Opinion

Emanuel’s move to restrict the right to protest caused a fire storm of civil liberties complaints. When his ordinances were first introduced one month ago, city council leaders were said to be in the “yes” camp, supporting the mayor. But CANG8 stood against it, and prominent civil liberties voices were raised. Occupy Chicago, the Teachers Union and SEIU joined in; and then an outpouring of grass roots folks gave the city council the courage to take a stand against these restrictions of constitutional rights.

In the middle of this debate, the City of Chicago granted permits to CANG8 for a family friendly rally and march on May 19. Mayor Emanuel responded to public opinion, which clearly supported the right to protest against NATO’s wars and the poverty that the G8 is pushing onto working people through its cutbacks.

In response to the pressure, the most egregious of the restrictions were reduced: increased fines for arrests in protests were dropped; the fines for march permit violations were reduced from$1000 each to $200 each; the requirement for one marshall for every 100 marchers was dropped; the requirement for amplification was reduced to informing them of any equipment too large to be carried by an individual; and the time limit for marches was left at two hours and fifteen minutes. The revised ordinance language has dropped the requirement that those applying for parade permits during the summits provide detailed information about the signs they planned to carry.

Any restriction on the right to protest is wrong

Organizers with CANG8, Occupy Chicago and organized labor are still urging members of the council to look at the intent, and think about the context: Mayor Emanuel invited the bankers and the generals here before Tahrir Square; before the protests in Madison, Wisconsin; and before Occupy Wall Street. He wants to deter protest in Chicago. The Emanuel administration has engaged in a campaign of vilification: “protests lead to violence” is how it is expressed. The superintendent of police and the mayor have threatened mass arrests from the moment CANG8 stepped forward to talk about a family friendly protest.

The mayor looks at the new Chicago he has inherited, with protestors in so many places, and he wants to put the genie back in the bottle. It’s not possible.

Any restriction on democratic rights is wrong. The city should not restrict its majority—workers, students, low income folks—as they find their voices. The city has voted in the past against war. Most people in Chicago are against the agenda of the NATO and G8 summits. Protestors have a right to deliver the message: “Jobs, Housing, Healthcare, Education, the Environment, our Pensions: Not War.” At the NATO / G8 summit.

On Wednesday, activists will pack the city council chambers during the vote on the ordinance changes.

The ordinances still quadruple the minimum fine from $50 to $200 for any violations of the parade permit; they give Chicago Police Superintendent McCarthy the power to hire private security companies to video protests, forging agreements with “public or private entities concerning placement, installation, maintenance or use of video, audio telecommunications, or other similar equipment. McCarthy is still allowed to deputize out-of-state law enforcement personnel during the summits. Protestors are still required to provide the city a description of large signs.

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