CHICAGO: Late Thursday afternoon, Chicago Alderman Joe Moore told peace activists that a Chicago police commander told Moore that protesters were not allowed to hold a press conference or an informational rally at Oak and Michigan to advise people that they could face arrest for exercising their constitutional rights to oppose the war at that location. The same commander called the protesters’ attorney on Thursday, asking what protesters’ plans were for Oak and Michigan.
Organizers have vowed to gather at Oak and Michigan and stage a press conference anyway; speakers will include a former marine and civil rights movement veteran who did jail time with Martin Luther King in 1962 who will advise people that Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has abolished free speech in the Gold Coast. Peace activists are urging those able to go to Michigan and Oak on Saturday to distribute flyers outlining the City’s hostility to constitutional rights, and that directs people to a permitted 2PM anti-war rally at Adams and Dearborn. The March 19 Coalition, which has been endorsed by more than 50 organizations, has pledged to take their opposition to the war directly to the people, arguing that free speech without an audience is meaningless in rejecting City efforts to drive peace activists to the empty corridors of Clark Street.
"If we don’t fight for our rights, we won’t have any," said Chris Geovanis, a volunteer for the activists. "We’re bitterly disappointed that Daley and the police have turned what should be a dialogue about the evils of this war into a battle for civil liberties. The police threat to forbid us from speaking to the media on Oak Street assaults our most precious rights, from freedom of the press to freedom of speech, and we plan to tell people at Oak and Michigan that people risk arrest for trying to exercise their constitutional rights and that this war is wrong and we are united in our opposition to it."
Chicago mayor Richard Daley and the City can still reverse their position to criminalize the effort to get out information about the costs of the war, estimated to top $2.1 billion for Chicago taxpayers alone and more than $11 billion for Illinois residents. Protesters argue that Daley’s actions effectively allow the City to declare any area a ‘no free speech zone,’ determine when and where people can exercise their constitutional rights to free speech and public assembly, and stake Chicago to a policy of outlawing free speech at a time when the U.S. government is celebrating similar public expressions in cities from Kiev to Beirut.
This week, the Chicago police posted a notice to their website, "ATTENTION SATURDAY MARCH 19 DEMONSTRATION PARTICIPANTS," telling protesters to assemble not at noon but one hour earlier instead at BugHouse Square -- a location for which protesters also do not have a permit -- and saying that people at Oak and Michigan could face arrest. Similar free speech battles are being waged across the country. On Thursday, the Center For Constitutional Rights sued the City of New York for refusing to allow protesters to march along 5th Ave. to oppose the war, a battle that closely mirrors the permit fight in Chicago. In Los Angeles, the City tried to rescind a permit for an antiwar demonstration, then backed down when the antiwar coalition and their lawyers vowed to protest anyway. Chicago protesters are recommending that the mayor and police follow LA’s lead
"With support for the war rapidly eroding, pro-war politicians around the country are increasingly tempted to shore up support for it by squelching or marginalizing anti-war voices," said Andy Thayer, who has been heading up the permit battle for the protesters. "As we saw in the Vietnam war, an unjust war abroad breeds suppression of civil liberties and rights at home."