Activists denounce restrictions on Chicago G8/NATO protests

On Jan. 25, the Vancouver culture jammers known as Adbusters brought new attention to the need to protest the NATO/G8 summit occurring in Chicago from May 19-21. Adbusters played a large role in building the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York last fall and their call is expected to put the NATO/G8 summit meetings in Chicago on the top of the list of spring protest sites in the U.S.

Their call began: “Against the backdrop of a global uprising that is simmering in dozens of countries and thousands of cities and towns, the G8 and NATO will hold a rare simultaneous summit in Chicago this May. The world’s military and political elites, heads of state, 7,500 officials from 80 nations, and more than 2,500 journalists will be there. And so will we.” 
The Adbusters’ call is just one of many initiatives underway for the summit. Occupy Chicago is also planning spring campaigns that highlight the role of the two elite international groups in creating the nightmare of war and austerity pressing down on the 99% around the globe. CANG8, the Coalition Against NATO/G8 Wars and Austerity, and UNAC (United National Antiwar Coalition) are moving ahead with the organization of a large national permitted mass action on the opening day of the summit, May 19, and a People’s Summit to build for that march on the previous weekend. The UNAC national conference to be held in Stamford, Conn., March 23-25, is planned to be a major effort to build East Coast participation in the May 19 demonstration.  
CANG8 won a major victory on Jan. 12 when the city of Chicago, after a five-month period of uncertainty, granted permits for the May 19 march and rally.  The permits were granted only after a series of protests that involved not only the antiwar and Occupy movements, but labor, religious, and community organizations as well. The victory was tempered by the contents of a cover letter attached to the permits, however, that said that these permits could be abrogated by the Secret Service and Homeland Security as the demonstration date nears. In addition, the Chicago city administration, in collaboration with the federal government, is clearly planning to use the NATO/G8 summit to set new national norms for restricting the right to protest through onerous ordinances, massive surveillance, and an extraordinary police and military presence. 
Throughout the month of January, Chicago activists mobilized repeatedly to stop the city from passing a package of terrible restrictions on those who would organize demonstrations in the city. While there was much fanfare about Mayor Rahm Emmanuel backing away from fines of up to $1000 for a violation of one of the parade ordinances, from the requirement that any demonstrating group provide a peace marshal for every 100 protesters, and from restricting the time a parade can be in the street from two hours and 15 minutes to two hours, in the end, extremely unconstitutional ordinances have now become law.
For example, resisting arrest, an act that has been defined in Chicago as going limp, can result in a $1000 fine. Organizers are required to pre-register any sign, with its content outlined, that requires more than one person to carry. The same is true for any sound equipment. Pickets on the sidewalk can be subjected to street parade ordinances. Multiple “violations” could result in a piling up of fees that make protest simply terrifying for working people.
The ACLU is protesting plans to add huge numbers of surveillance cameras with zoom, tracking, and facial recognition to a system that is already recognized as the most expansive and integrated in the country, until there is some guarantee that they cannot be deployed without reasonable suspicion of a crime. The ordinances also allow the mayor to hire almost anyone to function as part of a police force made up of public and private groups, to interfere with peaceful protest during the summit. Since September the city police chief has been spreading fear that those protesting the summit will be “violent” and boasting of the force of 13,000 officers of the law that he would be deploying. 
Coming as they do in the wake of revelations about the involvement of Homeland Security in coordinating the violent police crackdown on the Occupy Movement, the threat to use drones and other military hardware in local law enforcement, and the plan to use the militarized U.S. Coast Guard to herd a scab ship to the Port of Longview, Mayor Rob Emmanuel’s ordinances and the federal threat to shut down protest in Chicago must be addressed as one of the major challenges before the movements for social change in the U.S. They should not be seen as a Chicago aberration but as a national test of the ability of the antiwar and social justice movement to hold the space for legal protest.
The movement cannot afford to let the precedent being crafted collaboratively in Chicago and DC for the NATO G8 summit be set without a major challenge. While many militant youth believe that the fight over permits and legal protest space is passé, they underestimate the power and determination of the state. The movement cannot afford to let an opportunity go by to push back the NATO/G8 summit restrictions—a campaign that can have wide appeal among broad layers of the U.S. public.
A national ad to be printed in the Chicago Sun Times, demanding the right to protest war and austerity in May, has been initiated by UNAC and signed by hundreds of nationally prominent figures, including Noam Chomsky, Tom Hayden, Jules Lobel, Bill Quigley, Naomi Wolfe, and others (see www.unacpeace.org). It is a modest beginning to a critical national civil liberties battle that should be joined by all.
The way in which Chicago has been designated as an early battlefield in the government’s attempt to dramatically roll back civil liberties was also reaffirmed on Jan. 24, when a lawyer for the 23 Midwest antiwar and solidarity activists being threatened with indictments in a grand jury investigation of material support to “terrorism” was told that Assistant U.S. Attorney Barry Jonas has been assigned to the prosecution team.  Jonas, according to Jess Sundin of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, “is famous for one of the most appalling attacks on civil and democratic rights in the past decade—the prosecution of the Holy Land Five.” 
The Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development was once the largest Muslim charity in the U.S. Its efforts were geared towards providing humanitarian aid to help the people of Palestine and other countries. Beginning in 2001, as part of the run-up to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, the government began to attempt to use the founders of this organization as part of its campaign of fear and saber rattling.  The trial that resulted in the conviction and sentencing of the five defendants for periods of time ranging from 15 to 65 years included secret witnesses, the use of hearsay evidence, and the introduction of evidence that had nothing to do with the defendants in the case—such as showing a video from Palestine of protesters burning an American flag, as a means to prejudice the jury. 
Jonas was the lead prosecutor then and has now been assigned to work under Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald in the current attack on the Midwest antiwar and solidarity activists. It is time to rally the entire movement to reclaim Chicago as a center of working-class politics. 
> The article above was written by Christine Marie, and first appeared in the February 2012 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.