Despite much hand-wringing for city officials, the first rally of the NATO weekend -- and two impromptu marches it inspired -- went off without any major incidents Friday.
The two groups of protesters that had been marching through the Loop converged at Michigan Avenue shortly before 3 p.m., then largely dispersed without much resistance.
Police, who had allowed the groups to wander through Loop streets largely unrestricted, stopped them halfway across the Michigan Avenue bridge and not did allow them to go further north.
The marches appeared to have lost momentum by 5 p.m., with remaining protesters dropping their signs and their expletive-filled chants during a collective break at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Congress Parkway. Protest organizers said they planned a demonstration training session in Grant Park at 7 p.m.
With their numbers far smaller than they were a few hours earlier, some demonstrators used the down time to sun themselves or drink water. A few could be heard drumming buckets, but the crowd otherwise seem fairly subdued.
Police officers largely responded to the lull by removing their helmets or chatting amongst themselves. The CPD bike patrol, however, continues to form a barricade to prevent protesters from stepping onto Michigan Avenue.
The kick-off rally was far from the angry, violent protests seen at other gatherings of world leaders. The National Nurses United rally featured people dressed like Buddy the Elf and dancing to Motown music. At one point, former Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, an Occupy activist who has been at the movement's forefront, had to stop and teach the crowd how to sing protest songs. Police removed one protester from Daley Plaza but he was not arrested, according to Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy. Later, during a scrum with police on the Michigan Avenue bridge, at least one person was arrested after a protester ripped a NATO banner hanging from the bridge. Police estimated that between 2,400 to 2,800 people — many of them wearing red shorts and Robin Hood-style hats made of green felt — had gathered at Daley Plaza to support a so-called Robin Hood tax on financial institutions' transactions in order to offset cuts in health care and social services. A Tribune analysis of a crowd photo made during the middle of the rally counted just over 3,200 people, including police and bystanders. The Emanuel administration last week revoked permission for a march to Daley Plaza, claiming that the demonstration was expected to grow far beyond the original crowd estimate of 1,000 people. City officials later relented after they came under attack for suppressing free speech — but only after the nurses agreed to drop their plans to march through downtown.
That didn't stop a couple groups of protesters from marching through the Loop and up Michigan Avenue following the rally. Police officers accommodated the impromptu marches as they conducted rolling road closures for the hundreds of demonstrators who made their way east.
Chanting "these are our streets" and "(expletive) NATO," roughly 100 demonstrators headed toward Michigan Avenue. Another group of roughly the same size marched toward Grant Park.One group stopped briefly at Daley Bicentennial Park as members disagreed about where to go next.
Police tried to direct them onto Columbus Boulevard, but some protesters defied them yelling "Whose parks? Our parks!"
After 10 minutes of trying to figure out where to go, the group made its way through the park to Randolph.
Police tried to get them to use the sidewalks, but they pushed through the cops bike barricade and marched back west to Michigan Avenue.
When they did, the let up a cheer proclaiming victory over the police.
Most of the nurse demonstrators, however, boarded buses and left the loop after their rally.
During the scheduled event, Chicago Police took a flag pole that a Buffalo man was using to swing a "CoExist" flag.
Chris Phillips, 31 of Buffalo, said a police officer told him the pole was a potential weapon and asked him to remove the flag from the pole.
The police told him he could pick up the pole after the rally, he said.
After removing the flag from the pole, Phillips jumped up on a concrete planter in Daley Plaza and screamed, "this is the flag the police don't want you to read!" as he waved the "CoExist" flag around.
The nurses rally initially was intended to coincide withG-8economic summit, which was moved to Camp David, Md. earlier this year. Like many protest organizers, the nurses group went ahead with their event anyway in an effort to call attention to their cause.
The protest is expected to be warm-up for Sunday's anti-NATO march, which aims to protest a range of economic and military issues. Organized by the Coalition Against NATO/G-8 War & Poverty Agenda, the event is expected to draw about 5,000 people. With the NATO meetings still two days away, protesters complained of unfair treatment by Chicago police officers following the Wednesday arrests of nine people suspected of making Molotov cocktails in Bridgeport. Four of those arrested have been released without charges, said Sarah Gelsomino from the People's Law Office.
As many as seven others are still being held in the station's lockup, she said. Gelsomino decried the arrests, saying authorities were using the arrest to scare protesters in advance of this weekend's planned rallies. -
"This is playbook," she said. "Shoddy police work. It's a fear campaign."
Chicago police declined to comment on the case Friday morning, saying it remains under investigation.
Occupy organizers were scheduled to hold a news conference about the arrests this afternoon.
Tensions over the arrests did not seem to affect the nurses march, as the crowd spent part of Friday morning learning re-worked lyrics to "Dancing in the Street." The crowd was encouraged to change the chorus from "Dancing in the Street" to "It's time to tax Wall Street."
On the corner of Clark and Washington, a man carrying a sign denouncing authorities for denying him child visitation was visited by two police officers on bikes after a woman complained about the shrill whistle he had been blowing non-stop for the past 20 minutes.
"Lemme see that whistle," the officer said, holding out his hand. "People are tired of you blowing the whistle."
The man handed over the whistle, and argued with police for several moments.
"That's my property, that's my whistle," he said as reporters and passers-by stopped to watch, some recording the exchange with their cell phones.
After a few moments, the officers handed the man his whistle back, which he promptly began blowing.
Asked why he returned the whistle, the officer who did not want to be identified, said it wasn't worth the hassle.
"There's so many liberals around here, I'm not gonna get into trouble over a whistle."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun