It was already hot late Sunday morning as people began to gather at the Petrillo band shell in Chicago’s Grant Park when Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine began his set. Eschewing the stage, he performed on the more crowd friendly main floor as a group of veterans against the war held back the spectators. Beside the performance area, news media crews set up their equipment, each accompanied by at least two hired security guards. A handful of police strolled through observing the scene. As the temperature increased the protesters, now arriving singly and in large groups collected in the shade. Walking through the gathering groups it was difficult to get a sense for the overall message. Communists, the occupy movement, corn subsidy opposition, US veterans against the war, and anti-drone war activists (complete with hand made replicas) each set up meeting points one after the other with the songs of the Hare Krishna’s droning in the background.
As the sun beat down and the temperature moving into the 90’s, the march got underway with Rev. Jesse Jackson and the group of veterans leading the way. They were followed by each of the other disparate groups one after the other. The entire march was hemmed in on both sides by a solid blue line of police officers. As this river of shouting, flag waving humanity moved through the streets with chants and slogans filling the air…it seemed that for every heavily documented shoving and shouting match with police there was a joke or conversation between those in uniform and those without that went unnoticed and unrecorded. The march ended in front of a small stage set up at the nearest intersection to McCormack Center. During a presentation by Afghani women who had witnessed the horrors of war in their homeland, a local artist erected his portable easel and created an oil painting of the scene. Afterwards, groups of veterans came to the platform to share their stories and reasons for discarding their War on Terror campaign ribbons, which were then thrown over the police line towards the convention center. Only a few of these men and women had visible physical scars to match their fresh emotional wounds.
Quickly after the presentations ended, riot police moved in to clear the streets. They moved in to split the crowd into manageable sections. Bottles and sticks flew through the air towards the police as punches and batons were swung at the citizens. As the pockets of protesters shrank, the resistance became more passive and eventually evolved into police and demonstrators staring each other down over long rows of barricades. A national news reporter was broadcasting an exaggerated account of the violence and was quickly shouted down by the nearby demonstrators. The crew moved away to record their version in peace.
As the sequestered protesters and cops stared each other down in the heat, there began a conversation. A young demonstrator began chiding some officers for being on the wrong side of the protest. He argued that before too long, the police would feel the 1% reach into their lives and pocketbooks as well. Surprisingly, one of the officers responded. What unfolded was a dialogue between establishment and change agitator. As it turned out, they were both Chicago public servants. One was a police sergeant, and the other a public school teacher. These conversations are what many in the crowd possibly hoped for on some level…to be heard by individuals in the establishment, instead of roughed up, chased away or arrested. This continued for several minutes until another demonstrator happened by and saw an opportunity to verbally abuse the officer. At this, the others involved quickly lost interest and returned to their silent vigil. Which was how the event ended. Demonstrators moved away by twos and threes, while police descended on the nearby White Castle for sliders and Cokes.