Chicago Protests Draw Thousands Before NATO Event
By MONICA DAVEY and STEVEN YACCINO
Published: May 18, 2012
CHICAGO — Several thousand demonstrators, many of them nurses, filled a plaza in the heart of downtown Chicago on Friday for the first major rally in what is expected to be a weekend of protests as President Obama and foreign leaders gather in the president’s hometown for a NATO summit meeting.
Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times
In a plaza named for former Mayor Richard J. Daley, members of the National Nurses United union, wearing green felt caps, called for a “Robin Hood tax” on Wall Street. Some demonstrators later marched through the streets of downtown, at times deflecting police efforts to stop them but eventually scattering as scores of police officers, some in riot helmets, arrived in a pack of unmarked white vans and blocked off access to the Michigan Avenue Bridge over the Chicago River.
One demonstrator was seen ripping at a giant banner posted along the bridge promoting the NATO meeting, the first to take place in an American city outside of Washington. The police, who lined the streets downtown in clusters, reported at least one arrest during Friday’s sometimes tense march.
A far larger “anti-NATO” march was expected on Sunday, and violent images from earlier global gatherings, like a World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in 1999, have left some in Chicago on edge — businesses closed, windows boarded and the Loop oddly quiet.
For some, the outcome of the weekend’s protests will be viewed as a trial of the strength of the Occupy movement months after the groups emerged in cities around the nation with messages about income inequality. Demonstrators have been arriving on buses from Occupy-related groups around the country, and some observers have suggested that the number of protesters who ultimately appear here will serve as a sign of the movement’s current state.
“This is the spring — this is the rising,” said Christina Cooke, a member of an Occupy group from Buffalo who took part in the march here. “Everyone is still here after the long winter. We are still active with more passion than we’ve ever had.”
Occupy Chicago’s own efforts had never drawn quite the national attention of some other cities — places like Occupy Wall Street in New York and the encampment in Zuccotti Park, or in Oakland, Calif., where protesters this month clashed with officers in riot gear, who fired tear gas. Here, the protests never escalated to violent altercations. Last October, efforts by the Chicago protesters to stay overnight in Grant Park, the city’s front lawn beside Lake Michigan, were quickly halted with about 300 arrests.
By Friday night, the police confirmed that at least 13 people had been arrested over several days of protests leading up to the NATO meeting, which starts on Sunday.
Protesters said that at least nine other people had been taken into custody by the authorities on Wednesday night inside a home on the city’s South Side, on suspicion, some local media reports said, of making Molotov cocktails, but the police declined to comment or even confirm additional arrests, saying the case was continuing.