City officials and a national nurses organization cut a deal today that will allow a protest rally in Daley Plaza next Friday before the NATO summit begins, in return for the nurses dropping their plans to march through downtown.
Earlier this week the city revoked permission for the nurses group to march to Daley Plaza on May 18 on the grounds that the demonstration was expected to grow well beyond the estimated crowd of 1,000 people.
The march was to be diverted to Grant Park for the rally. Other protest groups joined the nurses in attacking the move as a city attempt to limit free speech during the May 20-21 gathering of world leaders in Chicago.
“This is an important victory for democracy, for free speech rights, and for the voice of nurses to be heard as we sound the call for a new vision and new priorities to hear our nation,” said Karen Higgins, co-president of National Nurses United.
The nurses group had held a parade permit for a march ending at Daley Plaza since February but city officials “modified” the permit this week, saying that publicity, as well as the addition of former Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello to the program, had indicated that the event might be too big for the plaza to handle.
City officials suggested the rally might actually draw more than Daley Plaza’s official capacity of 5,000 people.
After talking further with the group, city officials became more comfortable with the idea, partly because of scuttling of the march, but also because the nurses guaranteed that Morello would play for no more than 30 minutes at the end of the event, said Roderick Drew, a spokesman for the Law Department.
Morello, a Libertyville native, said pressure from protesters forced a reversal by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration.
“Of course we’re not a security threat to downtown Chicago, but we proudly remain a threat to the monied interests who failed to stifle us,” Morello said in a statement from the nurses.
City officials also clarified their position on the end of the NATO weekend’s other major demonstration, saying that the May 20 march from Grant Park to an intersection near the NATO meetings at McCormick Place would be able to include a stage for a rally and ceremony.
Organizers of that march, including members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, had battled with the city over officials’ resistance to putting up a stage at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Cermak Road.
Several veterans intend to hold a symbolic ceremony giving back medals they earned in Iraq and Afghanistan as a protest against ongoing military intervention in those countries.