Compared to the events reported in other cities, the Chicago May Day march was reported as altogether a peaceful march. That said, this is the image that most newspaper readers and TV viewers in the Chicago area had of the march.
What you see in the picture are the leading ranks of Chicago Spring’s unpermitted march from its Bank of America action in the Loop to Union Square Park. Approximately 150-200 marchers, mostly attired in black and with black flags marched into Union Square in formation shortly before the permitted march was to begin. As far a most Chicago news viewers and readers were concerned, this was the nature of the entire march, primarily because a portion of these black-attired folks raced ahead during the march in order to be captured in pictures at the head of the march. And the media, as so often jumped to the conclusion that the entire action was intended to provoke. This was the infamous and scary “black bloc” anarchists seeking to provoke the equally infamous Chicago Police Department.
Events did not unfold according to script, no doubt because the CPD had good intelligence about what was planned but also because a goodly number of the marchers were not hard-core anarchists whose first response is some sort of limited aggression ranging to attacks on property. They were folks who adopted the appearance of the feared in order to make a statement about appearances that hopefully the CPD and other law enforcement agencies will learn before the NATO Summit. Risks do not exclusively come from people in black hoodies and leather, and sometimes there is no risk from folks in black hoodies and leather.
So what did happen? What exactly were the most egregious actions of the the day. Aside from the folks who rushed to get their masked and hooded faces in the newspaper, there were a couple dozen folks that carried on a running violation of police lines of control along the march. And there were a few folks of unknown political philosophy who set off bottle rockets and firecrackers in order to taunt the police and scare (most folks knew exactly what they were) the participants in the permitted march.
But most importantly, the action that caused the most commotion was the march from the downtown banks. Protesters forced closure of the banks by a few black-attired people walking into the bank together and announcing, “We want to open an account”. (The bank manager and security closed and locked the doors, effectively putting the bank on strike for a while.) That was anticipated by the CPD. What threw them off balance was a gathering of approximately 150 marchers (the contingent that showed up at Union Square) who took the streets from the Loop to Union Square. Chanting “Whose streets? Our streets!”, the marchers responded to CPD attempts to cut them off or force them to the sidewalks.
The actions that caused the most concern for the organizers of the permitted march was the “Black Bloc” theater diverting attention from the real issues of workers and Hispanics who provided the numbers for the march. And the juvenile setting off fireworks, especially when the origin of the incident might be read by police as coming from one of the Hispanic marchers–the consequence of which mistaken identity might include incarceration and deportation.
But most of all the organizers were concerned by the violation of the Chicago Principles for Chicago Spring, which call for separation in time and space when a diversity of tactics are being used. And that lack of respect for principles that required a long time to reach consensus worries folks about what is likely to happen when there is the Secret Service and not just the CPD exercising operational control over coordinated security that includes security teams from fifty countries.
There is the feeling that if respect for the Chicago Principles is restored, it is possible to push the envelope of the issues related to public space and the ability to petition the government for a redress of grievances and the need for an end to NATO, the military industrial complex, and the occupation of Europe without people getting arrested for actions that they were not given the respect of informed consent.
The relative peace of the Chicago May Day march was the result of so degree of restraint both on the part of the CPD and on the part of the more aggressive of the protesters.
And it showed the fallacy of trying to profile one’s potential actions by the way they dress.