Following a spate of negative attention over its proposed new ordinances--deemed “Sit Down and Shut Up” by Occupy Chicago--Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office held a press conference Thursday to address its plans for the upcoming G-8 and NATO summits. “It is not correct about locking down the city,” insisted an official with the G-8 and NATO host committee, responding to a Chicago Sun-Times article making this charge. Ordinances proposed December 14 by Mayor Emanuel would alter several sections of the city’s municipal code and would effectively increase restrictions and potential fines on those planning and participating in demonstrations. Among the changes proposed, the new parade permit ordinance would increase minimum fines for violations from $50 to $1000, and a new section of the code would require that organizations obtain permits for demonstrations on sidewalks. A vote on the ordinances will be held at the January 18th Chicago City Council meeting.
Meanwhile, the city confirmed yesterday that it has begun issuing permits to applicants planning marches and demonstrations during the summits. Organizers had not been permitted to apply for permits until January 1st. The city has approved a permit for the Coalition Against the NATO/G8 War and Poverty Agenda (CANG8), and says another for National Nurses United is likely to be approved. During its press conference, city officials maintained that the reason for the delays in processing permits was that they were waiting on the final security procedures from the Secret Service, which has the authority to issue travel and security restrictions for Chicago during the events. According to Frank Benedetto of the Secret Service’s Chicago field office, who issued a statement after the city’s press conference, security restrictions impacting the public may not be released until two to four weeks prior to the summits. The G-8 and NATO summits have both been named “National Security Special Events,” a designation given by the National Security Council that is generally applied to inaugurations, political conventions and other mega-events such as the Olympics. Either the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the U.S. Secret Service generally takes charge of contingency planning for such events, often with support from the Department of Defense. The G-8 and NATO have not met in the same city since 1977, when both meetings were held in London. But at the G8 summit held in Georgia in 2004--the most recent G8 held in the United States—sweeping powers were also granted to city police officials. The G-8 summit was held in Sea Island, Georgia, a coastal resort town located about 80 miles south of Savannah. In Brunswick, the nearest mainland city, the city council voted to allow police to stop demonstrations if a state of emergency was in effect. At the same time, the governor of Georgia declared a pre-emptive state of emergency that was in force until the summit’s end. Most troubling, say organizers in Chicago, is that the mayor’s proposed ordinances will impact the ability to demonstrate in Chicago well beyond the G-8 and NATO summits. Though Emanuel had initially asserted that the new measures would be repealed after the end of the G-8 and NATO summits, he later claimed that he “misspoke” and acknowledged that they would be permanent, as reported by the Chicago Tribune. Ahead of next Wednesday’s vote, Occupy Chicago is calling for residents to contact their Aldermen in opposition to the ordinances.
Rebecca Burns is an In These Times contributing editor and award-winning investigative reporter. Her work has appeared in Bloomberg, the Chicago Reader, ProPublica, The Intercept, and USA Today. Follow her on Twitter @rejburns.