Occupy Chicago: A 'Dry Run' For Upcoming Summits

In Chicago, city officials and demonstrators say the recent Occupy Chicago protests are a sort of dry run for next year's simultaneous NATO and G-8 summit meetings.

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Early this morning, encampments of Occupy protesters in Los Angeles and Philadelphia were cleared away. But the protesters in Chicago still remain. The city's police superintendent has even called the demonstrations there a dry run. That's because police are preparing for some big events next spring that come with a lot of protesters. Chicago will be hosting the G8 and NATO summits.

NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: It won't be until May that some of the world's most powerful military leaders and politicians arrive in Chicago to discuss Afghanistan war policy and economic global issues. Even so, members of Occupy Chicago and others have already begun protesting the summits, as they did recently during a rally at Chicago's city hall.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: So say it with me.

PROTESTERS: So say it with me.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Opposing war and greed...

PROTESTERS: Opposing war and greed...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: ...is not a crime...

PROTESTERS: ...is not a crime.

CORLEY: It's the first time since London in 1977 that the NATO and G8 summits will be held in the same city at the same time. Mayor Rahm Emanuel says it's an opportunity for Chicago economically.

MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL: But also, in its message internationally, why Chicago is a city that's on the move. And if you're thinking of investing, Chicago is the place to invest.

CORLEY: The Secret Service, the FBI and FEMA planned the event but Gary Schenkel, the head of Chicago's Emergency Management Communications team, says his office will coordinate the city's fire, police and other departments.

GARY SCHENKEL: It'll be kind of like a McCormick Place convention on steroids, if you will.

CORLEY: McCormick Place being the city's large convention hall where it's likely some summit events will take place. Northwestern University political analyst Wes Skogan says summits typically attract thousands of people.

WESLEY SKOGAN: And, of course, the whole world will be watching, as opposed to the whole world trying to watch 150 Occupy sites.

CORLEY: Chicago activist Joe Iosbaker sips a glass of water as he sits at a corner table in a downtown Chicago restaurant. He's with the United National Anti-War Committee and he applied to hold demonstrations in Chicago the day President Obama announced the summits will be held in his hometown.

JOE IOSBAKER: I brought you two things to look at.

CORLEY: Iosbaker hands over a copy of an email, a denial from county officials to hold a rally in Chicago's Daley Plaza during the summit. A disappointment, but Iosbaker says the most important place demonstrators want to be is within sight and sound of the world leaders who will be here.

IOSBAKER: And sight and sound, you know, means, you know, we want to be able to march to within, you know, like, 100 feet of their building.

CORLEY: Iosbaker was one of the organizers of the 2008 anti-war protest at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. Although there were multiple arrests of protesters in St. Paul, that was after 30,000 people had finished the peaceful march that Iosbaker helped organize.

IOSBAKER: Many of the organizers for that are part of this organizing team, as well. We have a track record. We're talking to the city and we're telling them we want permits to march. They're baiting us and saying they're preparing for mass arrests.

CORLEY: Chicago does have its own reputation for conflict between police and protesters during political events. One of the more infamous examples occurred in 1968 during the Democratic National Convention and there were mass arrests during a protest of the Iraq War.

Police superintendent Garry McCarthy told a Chicago city council committee that the department is preparing for mass arrests during the summit, but he says police will treat protesters as they have during Occupy Chicago.

GARRY MCCARTHY: As we arrest each individual protester, they're told, you're in the park illegally. You're about to be arrested. You can leave right now if you choose to.

CORLEY: The city laid its groundwork early, not allowing Occupy Chicago protesters to pitch tents in a downtown park, for example. And Mayor Emanuel offers no apologies.

EMANUEL: I can understand why people have this sense of angst about the economy, overall, but I have a responsibility as mayor to ensure that their First Amendment rights are protected, which they are, and to make sure that the law is enforced, which it will be.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTERS CHANTING)

CORLEY: Protesters here say they don't know what the city is going to do about issuing permits, but they won't be deterred in their efforts to march against NATO and G8, just as they will continue their Occupy Chicago rallies.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

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