March 27, 2007

My thoughts on the March 20 antiwar march on Chicago's Michigan Avenue

For the past three years, I had anchored Chicago Indymedia's live radio webstream for the M20 events in Chicago, which usually took place on a Saturday. Being on Saturday often meant there would be events all day, sometimes well in to the evening, and certainly plenty of events to cover and hear back from.

This year, 2007, the Calendar Gods conspired to put M20 on a Tuesday and St. Patrick's Day on the Saturday prior. So Tuesday it is, and that meant that events would be abbreviated, so I opted not to organize a webstream this year. Believe me it is nearly IMPOSSIBLE to get anyone to call during a march, or even hear people during a march with all that chanting going on, or even have people hear their own cellphones with all that chanting going on.

So I went out into the streets with a video camera instead.

This was my first March 20 in the streets since The Big One in 2003 where I and 17,000 of my closest friends overtook a six-lane highway adjacent to downtown Chicago. A friend of mine tipped me off to "be careful" near the standoff at Michigan and Oak between violent police and peaceful protesters, so I took off -- right before police started beating up protesters.

The police presence this year was far more muted. In 2006, at last year's Michigan Avenue march, lines of heavily-equipped police lined the march, preventing marchers from interacting with "civilians" walking on the nearby sidewalk, and vice-versa. This year, there were police, but far fewer, far less armed overall, and more helpful than intimidating -- at least on the side of the street I predominantly saw.

The local corporate media presence was in full force. There was plenty of prominent coverage on the local media, some better than others (Fox sux, but you knew that already). In what's got to be a first (the first I heard of it, anyway), various Chicago media outlets were announcing details about the march before it happened, which helped some with outreach. This seemed to me to be a marked difference from 2003, when those damned Clearchannel pro-war rallies were getting sympathetic coverage and plenty of announcements, and no announcements and plenty of harsh words for the antiwar protests (when they actually acknowledged them at all). This year, there didn't seem to be much visibel opposition to the protest, though I did meet two people who were shocked -- SHOCKED! -- about the antiwar march and who were probably the last two George W. Bush supporters left in Chicago. And no counterprotesters of the Free Republic variety for the first time in years, fancy that.

Folks involved with the Chicagoland M20 coalition can speak to this more than I can, and not to say this was easy or anything, but it seemed like it was far easier this year than in past years to get the permits necessary for the march. Again, this struck me as a far easier situation as opposed to past years where the city and police fought tooth and nail all the way to federal court.

The number of protesters in 2007 was somewhat down from past protests. Estimates from protest organizers and from the National Lawyers Guild placed the number around 5,000 participants. That's down from the 17,000 in 2003, the 10,000 in 2006, and the 6,000 to 8,000 in 2004. This despite, in my estimation, far wider media coverage in the run-up to M20. The biggest blame seemed to be the Calendar Gods again; it's easier for many schedules to do stuff on a Saturday than on a Tuesday. The weather was also a tad nippy, even though it warmed up during the evening during the march itself (or at least that's what it felt like to me).

When we arrived at Daley Plaza at the end of the march, I was geeked when the TV show I work on was being projected for thousands to see on a giant-sized projection screen. Yay! Now I can say that I was walk-in for a cast of thousands.

At Daley Plaza, at the intersection of Clark and Washington, the Chicago police and state police forces were there in force. Hundreds of robocops walking in an array away from the protest. Plus I counted six police buses parked and waiting near the intersection. Waiting for what I wonder...

There was one incident just before the march which stuck with me. The RCP were standing on the corner outside of the Ogden parking lot, doing what they usually do talking on a bullhorn and saying whatever they were saying along with the word "communism". Meanwhile, one man was passing by with whom I presume was his wife and little girl in a stroller. This man was hearing the RCP, and said to me words to the effect: "So you're with the Communists, huh?"


I suppose I could subsequently rant about any of dozens of different topics and my feelings (most of them not flattering) about the RCP or any of the folks who hang around these events.

But I won't, at least not right now.