Protesters appeal NATO rally restriction

March 28, 2012 8:41:14 AM PDT
NATO protesters took their battle with the city over a march during the May summit to court Tuesday. They are appealing the city's denial of their request.

Protestors want to move the planned March from May 19 to May 20. The originally date corresponded with the G8 Summit, which was moved to Camp David. That request was denied by the city.

At the hearing on Tuesday, a Chicago Police Department spokesperson testified that activists' plans for the NATO Summit would pose "significant drain on resources" and impact traffic downtown. Protestors disagree, saying city officials have said time and again that they have the manpower and equipment to keep the streets safe.

"They are using the new sit-down-and-shut-up ordinance to justify an attack on our First Amendment freedoms," protest organizer Andy Thayer said.

The protestor's current permit allows them to gather in Daley Plaza on Saturday, May 19, and march to McCormick Place. Thayer said they still want to do it -- but want to do it on May 20.

The city says that's not possible because a Sunday protest that coincides with the start of the NATO summit would present different challenges -- many more motorcades with all the NATO heads of state arriving. Plus, the city doesn't want Daley Plaza as packed with people as it was 20 years ago during a Clinton-Gore rally that caused gridlock downtown.

"You want to stay with the original application? No problem. Change the date, the destination doesn't change, the route does -- to accommodate given the fact that you have about 150 dignitaries that you have to move," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday.

The city wants protestors to congregate at Butler Field in Grant Park and then march south to McCormick Place. They say it will allow for a larger gathering and less threat of surging crowds on downtown streets. Protestors say that's unacceptable.

" My clients believe it's very important to begin in Daley Plaza as a central location, easy access, easy for people get to and from public transportation," said an attorney for the protestors.

Even if the permit is denied, will protestors gather in Daley Plaza anyway?

"We have a permit and it is called the First Amendment to the Constitution, and if the city wants to blanket out all permits for Sunday May 20, I think they're going to have a lot more than just us to deal with. There is going to be many people in this city and around the nation that will be very angry," Thayer said.

The administrative law judge has not released a decision. If he decides the city was proper in denying the permit, protestors will have the option to go to federal court and argue on the basis of free speech.