On Saturday night, as promised, Occupy Chicago attempted for the second time to set up camp at “The Horse”: The plaza in Grant Park on the northeast side of Michigan and Congress. And for the second time, the Chicago Police Department (CPD) responded with mass arrests, this time arresting an estimated 128 – 130 people who refused to leave the park and charging them with “Public Peace Violation.” As of 6pm CT on Sunday, around 80 protesters were still in custody. In some ways this was a repeat of what took place late on the Saturday night and early on the Sunday morning of the previous weekend. Once again, a crowd of Occupy Chicago participants and supporters assembled at LaSalle and Jackson in the city’s financial district (where Occupy Chicago has been picketing since September 23), and marched down Jackson Avenue to Michigan and Congress, where they held a General Assembly and began to set up tents. Once again, the CPD issued warnings related to the 11pm curfew and gave those unwilling to face arrest the opportunity to leave the area before making arrests one by one and taking down tents. But with repetition comes escalation. While there may have been fewer arrests, my impression while at the scene was that tensions were higher than on October 22 – 23, with greater numbers of both police and of those protesters who, while unwilling to risk arrest, nevertheless stayed on the eastern side of Michigan Avenue rather than crossing the street. Police also seemed less tolerant of media observers, ejecting Progress Illinois’ Aaron Krager from inside the barricaded plaza despite his press pass, and moving other members of the media further back from the scene. The biggest change, however, seems to be in the CPD’s treatment of those who were arrested.
Last weekend, even some of those arrested had praised the individual conduct of the CPD and the way in which protesters were treated. A different narrative is emerging about Saturday night, and indeed the subsequent day: As of 6pm CT Sunday, the CPD was still holding an estimated 80 protesters at the District 1 station at 18th and State. Five people who were arrested for the second time (after being arrested last weekend) will be kept overnight and brought before a judge tomorrow, with the remaining 75 expected to be released later Sunday night. It’s not clear why the five second-time arrestees need to be detained further, since a sixth second-time arrestee has reportedly already been released. Several of those arrested have claimed that only one phone call was offered for all of the roughly 130 people in total. The non-profit National Lawyers Guild has reportedly learned that those detained were denied sleep, phone calls and access to lawyers. Members of Occupy Chicago who were prepared to face arrest for a second time always knew that the consequences would increase, including rising bail fees: Nevertheless, it seems that the CPD are working to make arrest an increasingly daunting prospect. If Occupy Chicago wants to continue attempting to set up camp in the same location—and it’s no secret to anyone who attended either Saturday night or earlier General Assemblies that there is internal dissent on this issue—what they need to escalate is numbers. While organized labor support was in evidence, swelling numbers to a police-estimated peak of 3,000 people, the unions’ presence Saturday still did not amount to some of the wildly optimistic numbers that had been rumored earlier in the week. One union whose members made their presence felt was National Nurses United, whose Medical Aid Tent was the focal point of the camp and the last to be taken down by police. This video shows the perspective of those who sat in front of the medical tent as police cleared the plaza:NNU has already issued a press release condemning the CPD’s actions and Rahm Emanuel in particular for the arrests of nurses and medical aid volunteers. NNU Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro said:“Even in wartime, combatants respect the work of nurses and other first responders. Yet Mayor Emanuel and Chicago seem to care as little about that tradition as they do in protecting the constitutional rights of free speech and assembly. These arrests are disgraceful and unconscionable, and will not deter our nurses from continuing this mission, setting up the station again, and continuing to support the protests.”Perhaps an even more telling line in the NNU press release says “Emanuel has been perhaps the most aggressive mayor in the nation in repression of the occupy Wall Street movement.” While Emanuel and other city officials no doubt want to convey that they can handle large protests in the context of the looming NATO/G8 meeting in May, it’s hard to imagine that Chicago’s mayor really wants to be seen as repressing a movement that his party has been trying to co-opt. Especially not when his former boss has to run a presidential election campaign out of the city next year. So Emanuel may have brought on some seriously unwanted attention. NNU will picket the mayor’s office at 10am Monday morning, while on Tuesday at 3pm another protest has already been planned at City Hall to draw attention to Emanuel’s push to reduce taxes for the Chicago Board of Exchange and Chicago Mercantile Exchange (of which the mayor is a former board member). As for Occupy Chicago, their spirits don’t seem to be dampened, even as their legal costs mount, the CPD gets tougher, and major questions remain about their next move. One protester released told In These Times’ Micah Uetricht that those arrested had held a General Assembly in the holding cells of District 1. In a press release released Sunday, Joshua Kaunert, who has been participating in Occupy Chicago for 22 days, said: “There isn’t an asterisk in the first amendment, where it says freedom of assembly as long as it’s convenient. We are non-violent, and have a right to air our grievances. The occupation will continue!” Full disclosure: The author’s wife is an Occupy Chicago participant and Press Committee member.
Joe Macaré is a writer, editor and development and communications professional, originally hailing from the UK and now residing in Chicago. His writing has appeared at In These Times, TruthOut, AlterNet, Dazed and Confused, The Times, Plan B and Stylus. He has appeared on WBEZ radio and Chicago Newsroom to discuss his extensive coverage of the Occupy Chicago movement.