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Protesters gathered outside City Council chambers to oppose Mayor Rahm Emanuel's parade ordinance, claiming the reforms violate First Amendment rights.

Emanuel's protests ordinance passes, but not without protest

by Dana Ballout and Joslin Woods
Jan 18, 2012


Dana Ballout/MEDILL

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said reforming the parade ordinance was necessary for Chicago's growth and prosperity.

Chicago City Council approved a controversial protest ordinance Wednesday amid loud and theatrical demonstrations both inside and outside council chambers.

“Let’s show the world that you can say what you need to say with your rights being protected,” said Ald. George Cardenas (12th).

The council voted 45-4 in favor of amendments to the city’s 40-year-old parade ordinance, which include restricting amplified sound from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., increasing the permit application fee by $15 and raising the fine for violating the ordinance to $200 from its current $50.

In second ordinance, Mayor Rahm Emanuel was given temporary blanket authority to contract services for the G-8 and NATO summits without going through normal processes. The same authorization was given to Mayor Richard M. Daley during the Democratic National Convention in 1996.

The ordinance relating to security operations in the upcoming G-8 and NATO summits also added permanent provisions changing park hours and allowing Chicago Police to bring in officers from outside the city.

Emanuel’s protest ordinance has come under fire by Chicago activists, particularly in relation to the upcoming G-8 and NATO spring summits, which might attract 100,000 protesters, according to news reports.

Although Emanuel said it is the city’s responsibility to modernize the outdated parade ordinance, protesters outside City Hall said the new regulations are an infringement on their First Amendment rights.

“I wouldn’t even dream of anything remotely as oppressive and anti-democratic as what they are doing,” said Fran Tobin, who has been a Chicagoan for most of his life.

Tobin said he hopes his 2-year-old son, who he brought with him to the protest, grows up in a world with more fairness, justice and democracy.

“These aldermen claim to stand up to the tradition of corruption,” Tobin said. “They promised us things would be different.”

Protesters gathered outside the entrance to the council chambers hours before the meeting began, where they carried signs, made speeches and put on a satirical performance depicting an authoritative Emanuel, oppressive police and protestors silenced by duct-tape over their mouths.

Noa Shayden, who lives on the South Side, said Emanuel is worried about the activist movement in Chicago.

“He wants us to sit down and shut up, and we won’t. We won’t be silenced,” he said.

The council’s voting was disrupted by three protesters who stood up in the gallery chanting, “We vote no.” One of them was removed, and the others walked out on their own. Chanting from down the hall could also be heard inside the chambers.

Protesters also banged on the upper gallery windows when the ordinance was approved.

“I am totally disgusted. This is a slap at civil liberties, this is a slap at America,” said Ronald Schupp, an organizer for the Coalition Against NATO/G-8 War & Poverty Agenda, after hearing the vote results.

Many aldermen said the debate around the ordinances is over the top and hyperbolic.

“First Amendment rights remain the same,” said Ald. Joe Moore (49th).

“Just like protestors have the right to sound amplifications, people have the right to peace and quiet,” Moore said.

While many aldermen expressed confidence in Chicago’s ability to host the international summits successfully, others were not as sure.

“I’m worried,” said Ald. Michael Chandler (24th). “You see protests getting violent around the world and you hope it doesn’t happen in Chicago.”