Permit for NATO Protest Granted, but Fight Not Over, Say Organizers

“Within sight and sound of the summit” was the demand of a coalition of anti-war activists, Occupiers and union members ready to protest the enforcers of the global 1 percent when they come to Chicago for the NATO summit.

After a weeks-long back and forth with the city, the protesters finally won their permit Wednesday. The march, as stated by the newly received permit, will be on Sunday, May 20, from downtown Chicago, past a military recruiting office and to a rally only blocks away from the McCormick Center where the summits will be held.

But organizers say that attempts to keep the expected thousands-strong protest from taking the streets of Chicago are only in their early stages.

“While we are obviously happy that we have won these permits, our optimism is tempered,” said Andy Thayer, an organizer with CANG8.

Thayer anticipates that the federal government, which has already had the Secret Service designate two security zones around the perimeter of the summit center and plans to bring snipers and aerial surveillance to the city, will step in weeks before the summit to deny the plan laid out by the permit.

“The experience with NSSE’s [National Special Security Events] elsewhere has been that just weeks before the events, the Secret Service swoops in, junks the permits granted by local authorities, setting up yet another permit battle on the eve of the event,” Thayer noted, “so we’re not out of the woods yet.”

The battle for the permit has already seen its fair share of starts and stops – before the G8 protests were moved to Camp David on March 5, the city approved a permit for Saturday, May19 identical to the one it later rejected for the Sunday demonstration.

The protesters appealed the ruling last week, threatening to sue the city for rejection of First Amendment rights, and took the issue to court, where the permit was denied again.

The reason given to the protesters was limited peacekeeping resources, reported The Chicago Sun-Times, despite news reports
that Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel raised $6.5 million from corporate donors to host the NATO summits, on top of a $19 million federal grant for security.

Following days of negotiations, the city offered the CANG8 to start the protest at Grant Park, the place of Obama’s re-election campaign night, because it expected more than the 5,000 protesters that the permit anticipated, reported Progress Illinois.

But this would mean bypassing the heart of downtown Chicago – and the city wanted to charge protesters the corporate price for use of the space: $40,000.

The permit issued Wednesday waives the fee.

Thayer told Truthout that if the permit came into question again, bringing the case to “federal court would be a very likely alternative.”

“Right now thought, it’s in the court of public opinion,” said Thayer, who contends that denying demonstrators from around the country to use their First Amendment freedoms could hurt a president who is “uniquely vulnerable because he is in reelection mode.”

And with a president who “thinks nothing of doing away with habeas corpus, thinks nothing of assassinating citizens abroad,” Thayer said, “we know he’s not going to give a damn about the First Amendment, so we could have a fight on our hands a few weeks from now.”

Brian Bean, an activist with Occupy Chicago, said that having a permitted march is essential to having “the whole 99 percent on the streets. Bring your grandma, bring your dog. The permit will afford the safety to do this.”

Bean also notes that “from day one in talking about the protests, the mainstream media has talked about the violence of the protesters. Very rarely have they asked why the violence of NATO is disproportionately larger than the one kid who breaks a window.”

He went on to say that it’s important to protest not because the heads of NATO will change their minds about their military incursions, but “so that they know the whole world is watching, so they are aware that there is opposition.”

Thayer agrees: “From Tahrir Square to McCormick Place, rulers are not fond of free speech that counters their policies. They know that if we win a good hearing for our views, it will be more difficult to pursue their pro-war policies,” he wrote in a press release. “That is why politicians in Chicago 1968 did their best to curtail the 1st Amendment, and why contemporary politicians try to do so as well.”