Between 1,800 and 2,000 protesters arrived at Grant Park Sunday for the largest rally to date leading up to the NATO Summit.
Multiple speakers kicked off the CANG8-hosted rally at noon, including Jesse Jackson Jr. and representatives from the Muslim Peace Council, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, Veterans For Peace and the Environmental Justice Network.
Protesters began gathering early Sunday at Columbus and Jackson in preparation for the rally. A group bused in from Minnesota gathered before 7 a.m. to get front-lawn seats to the Petrillo Music Shell.
"The only way to get your opinions voiced to the generals and leaders who are meeting is to show up on the streets," said Meredith Aby from Minneapolis. "We don't have another way to express that we don't want to be attacking and occupying other countries."
Iraq Veterans Against the War also peacefully marched ahead of the rally. They later threw away medals they'd received for their service.
"All we are asking is that these NATO representatives come and acknowledge us as human beings and accept our medals as we return them to these NATO generals," said Aaron Hughes this week.
Leaders of the event said they aimed for a peaceful protest but declined to accept blame for any violence that occurred.
"I blame our president, Barack Obama," said Andy Thayer of the Coalition Against NATO/G8 War & Poverty Agenda. "We are holding you and Mayor Rahm Emanuel personally responsible for any violence over next few days."
As the mercury rose to a sweltering 91 degrees, protesters took to the streets in a march from Grant Park toward McCormick Place, where world leaders were meeting.
Nine white vans, each filled with eight to 10 Chicago Police officers decked out in riot gear were seen parked on the west side of Columbus Avenue in preparation of the march.