First major protest of month goes smoothly
Rally, march from Union Park to Federal Plaza an orderly affair with no arrests
05/02/2012 1:20 AM
With the NATO summit now less than three weeks away, protestors and activists are dusting off their First Amendment rights and taking to the streets, but the first major protest of the year went off Tuesday without a hitch.
Tuesday was the annual May Day rally, a march from Union Park to downtown’s Federal Plaza that focuses on immigrant rights. That much was still true this year, as many of the hundreds of people participating held signs written in Spanish and organizers rallied the crowds with pro-immigrant messages, but a significant number of protestors from the Occupy Chicago movement joined in this year.
With the NATO summit this month, Occupy is dubbing May “Chicago Spring,” a reference to the uprisings that brought massive change throughout the Arab world last year. Both protestors and police were treating Tuesday’s rally as a trial run for the many rallies that’ll take place as the summit approaches on May 20 and 21.
But the rallies failed to live up to the hype that’s preceded the Chicago Spring protests so far. Thousands of protestors gathered peacefully in the West Loop’s Union Park at Ashland Avenue and Lake Street around noon Tuesday as speakers rallied the troops and spoke on a range of issues — largely immigration and workers’ rights, though several of Occupy’s usual talking points like financial reform made their way in as well.
Though the Chicago Police’s official estimate pinned the crowd at between 800 and 1,000 people, it appeared to be much larger than that at times, particularly in Union Park before stepping off towards Federal Plaza. As of Tuesday afternoon, police reported no arrests.
As the crowd swelled in the Union Park, many took advantage of the gathered masses. Protestors handed out independent newspapers trumpeting progressive causes. A stand passed out free vegan burritos and snacks to anyone who wanted them. The strong Latino contingent at the rally brought along snack salesmen selling churros, pork rinds and ice cream.
Standing and watching the speeches in Union Park, Bill Zieske of Norwood Park and Ellen Craig of Lake View said they’ve come to the May Day rally for three and four years each, respectively.
While the police might see it as practice for the NATO protests, the longstanding event is much bigger than that, Craig said.
“This is a tradition — not only a Chicago one, but worldwide,” she said. “NATO in Chicago is just a one-off event.”
Zieske agreed, and wondered why more people hadn’t come out for the rally.
“I’m disappointed in the turnout,” Zieske said. “I guess I consider it my civic duty to be here. For the last several years, I’ve felt it’s a greater civic duty to vote with your feet rather than vote in the election.”
Photos by Ben Meyerson and Jennifer Wolfe