Adbusters Wants 50,000 G8/NATO Protesters in Chicago

The activist group that helped initiate Occupy Wall Street is rallying troops for a "big bang in Chicago" ahead of the G8/NATO summits this May.

In a statement issued Thursday, Adbusters called on 50,000 people to descend on the city to "set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades" and join Occupy Chicago for a month leading up to the May 15-22 summits expected to draw 7,500 officials.

"With a bit of luck, we’ll pull off the biggest multinational occupation of a summit meeting the world has ever seen," the statement read.

"And this time around we’re not going to put up with the kind of police repression that happened  … nor will we abide by any phony restrictions the City of Chicago may want to impose on our first amendment rights. We’ll go there with our heads held high and assemble for a month-long people’s summit … we’ll march and chant and sing and shout and exercise our right to tell our elected representatives what we want … the constitution will be our guide.

And when the G8 and NATO meet behind closed doors on May 19, we’ll be ready with our demands: a Robin Hood Tax … a ban on high frequency ‘flash’ trading … a binding climate change accord … a three strikes and you’re out law for corporate criminals … an all out initiative for a nuclear-free Middle East … whatever we decide in our general assemblies and in our global internet brainstorm – we the people will set the agenda for the next few years and demand our leaders carry it out.

And if that doesn't happen? Adbusters promises flash mobs in the streets, the shutdowns of campuses and corporate headquarters, and making "the price of doing business as usual too much to bear."

"We want to get within sight and sound of the G8 and NATO conference," said protest organizer Andy Thayer.  “If people can’t hear you, what good is the first amendment?”

It almost goes without saying that whatever happens, it will test the mettle, and restraint, of protesters and police alike. 

“Certain people want to be arrested,” says Debra Kirby, the Chicago Police Department’s Chief of International Relations.  “When you violate the law, we will accommodate you.  You will be arrested.”

In a way, they are the two opposing bookends of the big event in Chicago on the third weekend in May.  Thayer, the pro-forma face of the opposition, insists the predictions of violence are overblown.  He said familiar scenes like those of the chaos at the World Trade Organization conference in Seattle, were the fault of police, not protesters.

"Norm Stamper, the former chief of police, wrote a whole book about how the city screwed up,” said Thayer.  “Stamper said the overwhelming amount of violence in that case was caused by the police department themselves.”

Thayer insisted that suggestions of mayhem, and calls for downtown businesses to prepare for the worst are nothing but hype; if there is trouble in Chicago’s streets, he said, the mayor and police will be responsible.

"We’ve got police blogs that are now bragging about how they’re going to violate people’s rights here," he said. "Do we hear Debra Kirby, or other officials saying this is absolutely wrong, we’ve got to stop this kind of conduct?"

In a week where still another multi-million dollar payout against police was approved, Thayer predicted the conference in May could get expensive.

"This city’s going to be on the hook for millions of dollars, post NATO/G8, because it doesn’t control its own officers," he said.

For her part, Kirby rejected those suggestions, and said she is going to great lengths to make certain that her officers know the boundaries of what kind of protests are allowed, and when those protests become scenarios where arrests are necessary.

“We’ve equipped our officers with a full understanding of the law and what is happening within the current landscape around First Amendment protest and activity," she said.

She added:

“We have enlisted heavily in training our officers, and allowing them to understand that sometimes they are there to have verbal abuse thrown at them.”

Indeed, said said she sees hers as a twofold mission, facilitating protests and keeping the peace.

“Certain activities that are engaged with, by what I’m going to say are criminal activists, as opposed to protesters, have certain traits and similarities, and that’s what we’re training our officers to look for,” she said. "For the officers that we anticipate will be on the front line, they are receiving over 40 hours of training."

It would appear that right now there is very little common ground.  Kirby said she is determined to balance the rights of the protesters to get their message out, against the needs of the rest of Chicago and the protection of her officers.  Thayer said he finds it ironic that some fear violence from his fellow demonstrators, considering others who have been invited to attend.

"We’re talking Vladmir Putin of Russia, who’s cracking heads in Moscow right now," he said. "You want to talk about violence?  Why are these people coming to Chicago?"

This week, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce president warned stores along State Street and the Mag Mile to add additional security and allow employees to work from home.

City officials fought that sentiment during a press conference the next day, saying they plan to use the summit to showcase the city, saying "this is not 1968."

But there already have been rumblings about protester frustration with Mayor Rahm Emanuel's handling of First Amendment rights. Some anti-G8 protesters have even said they'll sue the city.

In response Emanuel backed off this month on proposed increased fines for those convicted of resisting arrest. But the City Council approved other measures last week despite loud shouts from protesters.

Adbusters on Thursday didn't appear to be backing down. In closing, the activist group called for protesters to "pack your tents, muster up your courage and prepare for a big bang in Chicago this Spring."

Emanuel has said Chicago is working with the Secret Service and Federal Security Planning teams to establish an official protest area where the City "will provide sound amplification equipment, portable toilets, and other resources for protesters who wish to use it."

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