This post originally appeared at Diatribe Media.
Chicago, IL–The day kicked off in a tame but at least celebratory manner at a rally held in Daley Plaza by National Nurses United. After two hours of speeches and wandering around a square grabbing random flyers and other literature, there was no way that at least part of the 3,000 plus people standing on the square were simply going to go home. Everyone knew it, and one could feel a nervous sense of excitement wafting on the air while the last few chords of Tom Morello’s performance rang out. As people still milled about and I waited to see exactly when an unpermitted march would begin, the Chicago police made what appeared to be a very targeted snatch and grab of a masked protester. According to reports, the police attempted to ask the man a few questions, he refused to answer and was immediately led away in handcuffs. He was charged with disorderly conduct.
That incident was all the rest of the crowd on the plaza needed to incite them to move, and soon enough after a tense few minutes between police and protesters, we were in the streets headed south on Clark, with no clear destination in mind but a sense of determination that we’d march and shut the streets of Chicago down. The anger towards the police was palpable, not only with the most recent arrest in mind, but also keeping into consideration the arrest of eight activists in a night time raid the day before. Three of the arrested are still being held, now being charged with crimes related to terrorism. Shouts of “no justice, no peace, fuck the police” came from hundreds of voices and reverberated off every piece of glass and concrete in the loop.
Still, as the march snaked its way through the streets downtown, the police were mostly restrained. I waited and expected to see a wall of riot police, clad in black with clubs and tear gas at the ready as we turned down various corners, but the hundreds of officers on the street merely wore plain clothes. The march eventually made its way through part of Millennium Park, eventually climbing onto Randolph near Obama’s campaign headquarters. As we started heading west down Randolph, unmarked vans filled with police in riot gear began to pull up. One of CPD’s two LRAD trucks sat ominously but silently on a corner. At the corner of Randolph and Michigan, the unpermitted march that began at the end of the NNU rally met a second set of environmental justice marchers.
Together we marched for a short while longer through the Loop and eventually were stopped at the bridge over the Chicago river on Michigan Avenue, where one demonstrator scaled a bridge tower and managed to rip a banner in half put up by the city to welcome NATO delegates to town. After ringing a large bell on the tower, he jumped down and police attempted to make an arrest. Protesters managed to dearrest him, but another demonstrator was tackled and held by police. Several demonstrators tried to intervene, shouting at police while media who managed to make it close to the situation attempted to document. While I frantically attempted to get photos of the scene, a wall of about a dozen blue helmeted police in full riot gear, clubs drawn flooded the small area on the bridge where an officer was standing on the demonstrator and we were pushed out. Almost immediately, the scene changed from an intense but peaceful demonstration to a tense standoff between protesters and police geared up for battle. Police made one more arrest as hundreds of officers in riot gear filled the streets.
Eventually, remnants of the march headed back through the loop down State Street, chanting at a scarce amount of afternoon shoppers to put away their wallets and let go of their attachment to consumerism. Still holding the street with nearly 300 strong, marchers made their way towards LaSalle and Jackson, home of Occupy Chicago, flanked by hundreds of police on bikes. Shortly after reports of an attempt to kettle demonstrators, protesters headed out to various other actions. Some to a direct action training and celebration in the park at the horse, site of two sets of arrests of Occupy Chicago members during attempts to create an encampment in October, others to jail solidarity to support those arrested.