The “Sit Down and Shut Up Ordinance”

The Occupy movement actually sat down and wrote a letter to all 50 Chicago aldermen, instead of barging into their monthly ward meetings interrupting them during the street repaving report.

Let’s hope the written word is more powerful than the mic check, because the topic is next week’s vote on an ordinance to give Mayor Rahm Emanuel expanded powers to deal with protestors at May’s G-8 and NATO summits, by curtailing the use of parks and beaches, and raising the fine for a violation of “parade rules” to a maximum of $1,000. Emanuel originally said the measures were temporary, but now intends to make them a permanent tool to deal with demonstrations.

Obviously, Occupy Chicago has a vested interest in unfettered dissent -- public protest is its business model. But every Chicagoan should be concerned about a change in the law that will tip the balance of power between the mayor and the citizenry way in the mayor’s favor. We should also be concerned about the deceitful way he slipped the proposal -- which Occupy Chicago has dubbed the “Sit Down and Shut Up Ordinance” --into the public discourse.

Here is an excerpt from the letter, which was signed by members of Occupy Rogers Park and Occupy the South Side:

We are writing to draw your attention to policy concerns about legislation pending for the City Council meeting scheduled for January 18, 2012. Specifically of concern are O2011-9743.pdf , “Amendment of various sections of Municipal Code and providing associated authorization regarding upcoming NATO and G-8 summits,” and O2011-9742, “Amendment of various provisions of Municipal Code regarding parades, athletic events and public assemblies.”

As you are no doubt aware, Mayor Emanuel sponsored this ordinance and has promoted it in the media as a “temporary” measure aimed at controlling protesters during specified events taking place later this year. As you’ve surely read, the Mayor has since been forced to retract his claim that these changes were ever meant to be temporary. Another blatant inconsistency is that the ordinance applies to the entire city, while the NATO and G8 summits occur only downtown. Other inconsistencies in the presentation of this ordinance are similarly problematic.

Given what the ordinance actually says, it cannot be construed as an effort to protect the integrity of G8 and NATO conferences. This measure is a permanent attack on public protest in the City of Chicago. The consequences of this attack will be far reaching, and will be felt by protesters throughout the city, most of whom will never have any connection to the protests associated with these events.

As you are also aware, we celebrate the legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on January 16, 2012. Dr. King’s legacy is not one of obedience to municipal authorities, but rather the inspiring story of a man who led a community that was willing to face down oppressive lawmakers by violating exactly the type of ordinance the Mayor is asking you to support.

The letter also quotes the 1st Amendment in asking aldermen to take this pledge:

Under no circumstances will I fail to vote against City of Chicago (proposed) ordinances restricting free speech*, or any variation thereof that additionally restricts in any way the right of the people of Chicago to exercise their rights to free speech and assembly.

You can get more information about contacting your alderman on this ordinance here.

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