Chicago highway closure latest US protest targeting affluent
CHICAGO — A planned march Thursday along Chicago’s picturesque roadway bordering Lake Michigan to one of the most historic baseball stadiums is the latest chapter in the nation’s long history of protesters targeting places where they believe their anger goes unnoticed.
The strategy, made famous during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, has gained steam lately as protesters speak out on such issues as police brutality, racism, immigration, and even Confederate monuments.
More than a half century after police attacked protesters as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, massive crowds are marching in such cities as St. Louis, Minneapolis and Los Angeles, blocking traffic and shutting down businesses.
“In the last few years, yes, more of these are definitely happening,” said Stefan Bradley, who chairs the African American Studies department at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. “The biggest ally of the civil rights movement was the press, the media, and these younger activists are savvy with regards to garnering the kind of attention from the media that make local issues national issues.”
In Chicago, weeks after protesters shut down traffic on an interstate on the city’s South Side to draw attention to gun violence in poor neighborhoods, another group of protesters planned to do the same Thursday with a march along Lake Shore Drive to Wrigley Field.
“I’m hoping we have enough to…block traffic, to be a disruptive force” said the Rev. Gregory Livingston, one of the organizers of the march. This is an act of civil disobedience.”
WHY HERE? WHY NOW?
As in many major cities, much of the violence that plagues Chicago happens in pockets of the city where both tourists and many residents rarely venture. So, to reach those people, organizers figured that there was no better place to bring their message than a road that brings people to the city’s beaches, gleaming skyscrapers trendy restaurants and famed baseball stadium.
“Where can we make people most uncomfortable?” asked Livingston. “You want to go where they chill out and relax.”
It is a playbook followed by countless protests, including the one staged last fall in St. Louis when demonstrators angry over the acquittal of a former police officer in the fatal shooting of a black suspect descended on the downtown area. Within hours, they’d blocked traffic, prompted restaurants and bars to shut down, and even forced the rock band U2 to call off a concert that would have drawn 50,000 fans to the area.
Timuel Black, a prominent Chicago historian, said such marches are designed to change minds of people who watch them on television or witness them on the streets.
“The point is to carry themselves to where the more fortunate people are and hope they will sympathize with the reasons for that disruption,” Black said.
The Rev. Michael Pfleger, one of the organizers of last month’s march that shut down traffic on the Dan Ryan Expressway on the city’s South Side, agreed. “You are always saying, ‘How do we express our anger and our outrage but still bring more people in,'” he said.
It would be hard in San Francisco to find anyone who would argue about the importance of protecting the majestic redwoods of Northern California. And yet, when protesters, including actor Woody Harrelson, scaled the Golden Gate Bridge to protest logging of redwoods, the overwhelming feeling was anger toward the activists for snarling traffic for hours.
Motorists were furious amid reports of that at least one family missed a funeral and a father missed the birth of his son. A local newspaper concluded that the “bridge-scaling antics certainly did more harm than good to the image of environmentalism.”
“The danger is that you are alienating (people) rather than draw them into the circle,” Pfleger said.
A protest’s goal should be both worthy and attainable, he said. Pfleger declined to participate in Thursday’s action in part because organizers are demanding the resignations of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, something he says is “just not going to happen.”
Livingston isn’t so sure.
“Everything is impossible until somebody does it,” he said.
And fellow organizer, the Rev. Ira Acree, said it doesn’t matter if the march makes people angry at the marchers.
“This is a righteous cause,” he said.