Where will NATO/G8 protesters be allowed to gather?

(FILE) A crowd estimated at 150,000 are seen on Hutchison Field in Chicago's Grant Park after a march through the downtown area to a rally calling on immigration reform Tuesday, May 1, 2007. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

February 29, 2012 3:25:54 PM PST
Will protesters accept the terms, set by officials, on where they can and cannot assemble during the G8 and NATO summits?

Five years ago, a huge immigrations rights march and rally ended at Hutchison Park at the southern end of Grant Park. It's also where President Barack Obama celebrated his victory in November 2008.

Hutchison Park can accommodate a large number of people and is set slightly below street level, which makes it easier to control from a policing standpoint. If selected as the so-called designated protest area during the G8/NATO summits in Chicago in May, many protest leaders said they will not be going there.

"It is frankly insulting. The point of our protest is the G8 and NATO and not some be sodden field in the south end of Grant Park," Andy Thayer, protest organizer, said.

"When the government that we are questioning, challenging, designates where and how and to whom we can bring that message, then it is, by definition, no longer free speech," Jay Becker, protest organizer, said.

During the 1996 Democratic National Convention, the city set up a so-called "free speech zone" or protest area in a parking lot some distance from the United Center. Protesters objected, but police were allowed to enforce the boundaries. There was a march that was largely peaceful.

When the G8 kicks off on Saturday, May 19th, there will be a large, permitted rally in Daley Plaza, followed by a permitted march south to McCormick Place. How close the protestors are allowed to the summit site is still an unanswered question, but Hutchinson Field, which is a mile north of McCormick Place, is not on the agenda of protest organizers.

"If other people want to go there, that's their business. That's not where we're going. We're going to G8 and NATO down at McCormick Place and we're going to get as close as safely possible. And our permit says we'll go to the west side of McCormick Place and that's where we intend to go," Thayer said.