Activists are planning massive demonstrations to coincide with the G8 and NATO summits in Chicago scheduled for spring 2012, with crowds of protesters likely to reach “tens of thousands,” organizers said.
More than 160 members representing about 50 groups from across the U.S. and Canada gathered Sunday at the Chicago-Kent College of Law to discuss strategy and start planning two large-scale protests and a march that during the week-long joint summit, which is set for mid-May.
The G8 and similar economic forums have for more than a decade drawn thousands of demonstrators. With the world economy in turmoil and NATO leaders set to discuss Afghanistan war policy, the joint summit should draw protesters on behalf of a wide array of causes, activists said.
Chicago could see crowds of protesters similar to the 35,000 or so activists who descended on St. Paul, Minn., during the 2008 Republican National Convention, said Joe Lombardo, co-coordinator for the New York-based United National Anti-War Committee.
“With the war (and) the global economy as they are, and the (U.S. presidential) election in full swing next spring, I think it will have the potential to be bigger than the protests in Minnesota,” said Lombardo, a retired New York state government worker who has participated in demonstrations since the 1960s. “Those issues are not going to go away (by May) and Chicago is a larger city than some of the other places they've had these summits recently.”
Chicago activist Joe Iosbaker, who helped organize the RNC protests in 2008 and whose home was raided by FBI agents last October, said he applied for permits to hold demonstrations in Daley Plaza and Federal Plaza downtown the day the White House announced the city would host the summits.
So far, he has not heard anything about the status of the permits from the county about using Daley Plaza or the agency that controls Federal Plaza. City officials also have said organizers will not be able to apply for a permit for a planned march through the city until the first of the year, Iosbaker said.
“They told me they would get back to me in two weeks to let me know at least that we were in the process of getting the permit,” Iosbaker said. “That was nine weeks ago.”
Local activist Andy Thayer said demonstrations will be peaceful, despite a recent statement by police Superintendent Garry McCarthy that the department is preparing for “mass arrests” of protestors during the summit.
The remarks were especially galling given Chicago's mixed history of dealing with large demonstrations, Thayer said. Police in 2003 arrested about 900 people who marched to protest the start of the Iraq war, with some protesters held for up to 36 hours. The arrests prompted a class-action lawsuit, Thayer said.
“Statements like that from McCarthy have a chilling effect,” he said. “The city has a history of attacks on civil rights.”
Iosbaker noted that events like the G8 and World Trade Organization summits have seen some violence in their host cities. Iosbaker attributed the clashes to aggressive police, and said his group is planning to do nothing to disrupt the city or the conferences.
“What we want is a safe, permitted, legal protest,” Iosbaker said. “Something that parents feel safe bringing their babies in strollers to, and we want our voice to be heard.”