With the march down Michigan Avenue to protest the Iraq war just a week away, Andy Thayer was still arguing with the Chicago Police Department over logistics. The police had already agreed to let the march begin at 7 PM on Saturday, March 18, but now they were telling him to change the start time to 6:30. Thayer says they didn't say why, but he told them all the participants--4,000 to 6,000 people from more than 100 organizations are expected to show up--had already been told it started at 7. At press time the police hadn't responded, but Thayer says he has a permit for 7 and he's sticking to it.
Thayer, an office manager for a law firm and head of the coordinating committee for the ad hoc coalition pulling together the march, helped organize the 2003 march against the Iraq war that wound up on Lake Shore Drive. He was arrested and jailed overnight along with 500 other people. The following spring he and other activists asked the police for a permit to march down Michigan. The request was denied, and 3,000 or so people marched down Clark Street instead. Thayer calls Clark a dead zone. "Nobody hears your message," he says. Last spring he again applied for a Michigan Avenue permit and was again turned down. Police directed people who tried to march on Michigan over to Dearborn or Clark. Thayer held a press conference at Michigan and Oak and got arrested.
Thayer has since wised up. He paid close attention last fall to the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association's annual Festival of Lights parade, which featured Mickey Mouse, Chicken Little, and Abby Mallard marching on Michigan from Oak to Wacker. In January when he turned in the permit application for this year's march he asked for exactly the same starting time and route as the festival parade. He also asked for the same number of floats--eight--and submitted a video of the parade to make sure his point wasn't missed. Apparently it wasn't. The start time offered was an hour later, but the route went from Walton down Michigan and ended at Daley Plaza. "In essence," he says, "we got what we wanted."
After he got the permit for the march, which the organizers had started calling the Festival of Rights, Thayer asked the police to block off Oak Street at 5 PM so the coalition's sound truck and six floats--including a massive hooded Abu Ghraib figure looming over a stack of mannequins--could park there before people started gathering at six. The police said no, because it would create a safety hazard. "This means that you're going to have both people and vehicles flooding into the same area--a very congested area, I might add--right at the same time," Thayer says. "Now that strikes me as a safety hazard."
Thayer let the issue drop, but he was annoyed: "If the city had just decided to be halfway reasonable and make a scintilla of the sort of concessions to us that they routinely make to the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association, then we wouldn't have this kind of drama."
Alejandro Molina, who's on the board of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center and is one of the main organizers of the march, says this will be the first major antiwar demonstration that Latino groups have joined, having declined invitations to be part of the earlier ones because of their "inordinate amount of focus on downtown." This year's march will end a day of smaller marches and rallies by groups from Humboldt Park (where 26th Ward alderman Billy Ocasio will speak), Logan Square, Albany Park, and other neighborhoods and suburbs. They will make their way--on foot or via public transit or carpool--to Union Park, at Washington and Ashland, for a 3 PM rally, where Congressman Luis Gutierrez will give the keynote address. (For details see chicagoactions.org.)
Linda Beckstrom of Peace Pledge-Chicago, another main organizer, isn't worried that none of the feeder marches has a permit: "The police said, well, we don't have enough personnel to cover all this. We've assured them that these are going to be peace rallies, they're going to be calm peace marches, people are going to stay on the sidewalk, and there's really no need for a heavy police presence." It's legal to march on the sidewalk as long as people keep moving and don't obstruct it.
Melinda Power, attorney for Peace Pledge and the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, isn't worried either. "When you have Alderman Billy Ocasio writing a letter saying this is his march, he's sponsoring it, and he's speaking at it, I think it's a little hard for the city to give us problems."
Thayer thinks there might be problems on Michigan Avenue. "We may be running battle slash negotiations with the police," he says. But he adds that he'll be carrying a copy of the permit with him. "Like Chamberlain waving a piece of paper saying 'Peace in our time,' we've got a permit in our time."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Joeff Davis.