Thursday Night's Chicago War Protest

 Non Criminal Element Gets a Taste of Law Enforcement

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To everyone:

The following is my friend's experience at Thursday night's anti-war protest in Chicago. I doubt if you saw any of this on the news...but the story must be known. Please take the few minutes to read it. The details of the march begin in the 3rd paragraph. I am 100% confident in the truthfulness of her words.

My thanks to you for taking the time to read her story, especially those of you with whom I've little direct contact in a long time or with whom I share a more professional relationship. I hope you agree that this story is important...I hope all of you are well.

Laura

P.S. Ironically, I recently tried to convince some of my (much younger) photography classmates (at Columbia College) that they needed to be careful when documenting or participating in protests. (I encouraged them to do so....but to be smart.) Most thought I was overreacting. A shocking number had no idea what I meant by my reference to the 1968 Chicago Democratic National Convention protests and the resulting atrocities by police. I fear that future high school students will be hear about these protests like I did the 1968 ones.

Carolyn Caporusso wrote:

On the night of March 19th, I cried more than I had in a long, long time. My country has gone against the United Nations in order to launch a brutal attack on another country...why? Oh, for going against the United Nations. I cannot comprehend this. Thousands of people are going to suffer horribly and die at the hands of my country, at the expense of my tax dollars and all I could do was curl up into a little ball of shame and helplessness.

One of the many reasons why I was so upset was because I just returned from a long weekend visiting a friend at a Marine Corps base. I shared a lot of beers, laughs and hugs with people from our armed forces. I support them. I respect their vitality and bravery and honor. The thought of any of them being injured or killed makes me feel physically sick. They believe that they are fighting for our freedom, but our freedom is diminishing. Listen to my story and make up your own mind.

At 5pm on March 20th, I left my office to join some friends, including a visibly pregnant woman, at Federal Plaza in downtown Chicago. I had improvised a sign from a file folder saying "Make Love, Not War." There were several speeches by members of various anti-war organizations while the crowd gathered. It was impossible to tell how many people were there. I saw people I'd protested the last Gulf War with, I bumped into a former college professor of mine, I stopped to chat with a lawyer that I know who was there with her two pre-teen daughters about their upcoming trip to France. There were people there with infants in their arms. There were signs that said everything from "Stop Mad Cowboy Disease" to "Support Our Troops, Bring them HOME." This was not a violent mob; this was a group of concerned citizens voicing their opposition to war in the only outlet left to them. Business as usual is not an option for people of conscience when your country starts perpetrating war crimes.

The rally turned into a march and headed east towards Lake Shore Drive, a major artery of the city's traffic. We marched right onto the Drive chanting and singing and banging on drums with no opposition from the police. In fact, I was towards the front of the group and I saw very, very few officers. Having seen the police presence for the Trans Atlantic Business Conference protests here, I got the impression that we were being allowed to exercise our right to protest. How wrong I would prove to be.

After about an hour of marching up both the north and southbound lanes of traffic, to the delight (the more common reaction by far) or disgust of the trapped motorists, a single line of police blocked us. If we had been a violent or angry mob, this would not have stopped us. I now believe that they were stalling us while they gathered their forces, after a while they let us continue marching and had served to make us a tighter and more cohesive group. A great cheer went up when someone announced that our protest march was the second biggest in the US after San Francisco and that we numbered about 10,000.

By about 9pm, people were tired, hungry, thirsty and hoarse and ready to go home. But we had to get off the Drive. We crossed over and exited at an area of Michigan Avenue known as the Magnificent Mile. This is the highest priced real estate and shopping area of the city. This is the point where I saw a police officer hit an elderly lady with his club. Our presence had become a threat to the wealthy, even though nobody in the crowd wanted to damage anything. It was a peaceful protest.

There was a line of riot police about 10 deep with horses and trucks blocking 10,000 people with nowhere to disburse to. After a long standoff, a portion of the march turned down a side street since there was no place else to go. We became bottlenecked between some cars with families in them that had been blocked by the police as well.

I moved forward with the crowd right as the police began charging and striking out at everyone with their clubs. I took a hit in the ribs and had to roll backwards over the hood of a car and ran back the other way. I came across a group of very panicked people, another line of riot police moving forward with clubs swinging and the sight of a young male protester being pinned down and beaten in a manner reminiscent of Rodney King.

I realized that police officers who were looking for any excuse to be violent to us penned us in on both sides. I started to cry. A large portion of the protesters just sat down while others were being thrown to the ground and handcuffed for daring to ask the police how they could get out. The crowd had moved as far back from the police as they could and the police line stopped and came together. I walked up and stood silently about two feet in front of them with tears streaming down my face and tried to make eye contact with them in order to remind them that they were dealing with human beings who were being entirely non-violent. Then I sat down so they would know that I was not a threat to them, aside from the fact that I'm a five-foot tall female and they were large men in full riot gear.

The people were chanting, "This is what democracy looks like" and I overheard one officer say to the other "This is what overtime looks like." I reminded him that his overtime was paid for with my tax dollars. I then saw that several of the officers had video cameras and were taping the events. These tapes will show that what I am saying is true. I also saw that not a single one of them had their name or badge number showing.

Then the order was given to start arresting. Two of them pushed me forward and restrained my hands behind my back with a tight plastic strip. One started to pull me up when the other said, "just drag her." I decided to practice passive resistance and went completely limp. By the time we reached one of the Sheriff's buses that they had to use as a paddy wagons, my arms felt like they had been pulled from their sockets. I was then frisked very thoroughly by a male officer. The women's bus slowly filled up. A hyperventilating 17-year-old girl was placed in the seat across the aisle from me. Some of us managed to free our hands and began making phone calls to tell people that we'd been arrested. I tried to use nail clippers to remove a woman's restraints because they were on so tight that her hands were turning blue. They transported us in a convoy of buses, paddy wagons and squad cars with their lights on and sirens screaming to the police station at Grand and Central.

The whole station was filled to overflowing with the most amazing women that I've ever met. They were the only thing that made the next 14 hours bearable. We were packed into holding pens at first, and then some of us were moved to a courtroom to make room for the incoming arrestees. I wasn't put into a cell until 4am. There were women from 16 to 70, first time protesters to veterans of the Vietnam movement. In fact, some of the women sharing this dehumanizing experience were not even protesters. I met a woman named Crystal who was a tourist from Iowa. She had dinner at a Michigan Avenue restaurant and was on her way back to her hotel with her boyfriend when she was grabbed by the police for the crime of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was taken to a different police station. We tried to bring her plight to the attention of our jailers but they did not care. She could still be in jail right now since nobody knew she was there. There was also a mother and daughter who had been wedding dress shopping and had lingered too long on the street.

I shared my next cell with a magazine editor and another woman who was not a protester. She had just come out of a business meeting and made the mistake of asking an officer what was going on when she saw someone being beaten. It was refreshing to hear that someone didn't turn a blind eye when an atrocity was occurring right in front of her. She was very angry about her arrest but was proud of what she did. We'll be seeing her at the next protest. I must remember to thank the Chicago Police Department and Mayor Daley for recruiting and inspiring yet another anti-war protester.

For those of you who have never been to jail, let me describe the facilities. There's a toilet in the middle of the cell. At the top of the toilet there's a drinking fountain that only comes out in a trickle. If you're thirsty, you can't get a drink unless you put your mouth around it. The floors that we were made to sit on were filthy and the whole place stank of urine. The night warden in the cellblocks was kind hearted enough to give me a glass of clean water and some bread at about 4:30am but then went off duty.

In spite of the thirst, hunger and filth, I had a great experience in jail. Thinking about what the people in Iraq (on both sides) are going through put my physical discomfort into perspective. Also, I spent the sleepless night making friends and networking. The women of Cell Block 7 will be seen on the streets of Chicago again. As I'm sure will all of the people who were corralled and brutally arrested for exercising their right to protest. Thanks again to Mayor Daley and the Chicago Police for giving us even more of a sense of unity. But how much money was spent on this attack on the citizens of Chicago?

My resolve to stop this war has been strengthened. My sense of right and wrong will not be scared into submission. I have a right to protest that my foreparents fought and died for. Where would we be if they hadn't? Why haven't more of us noticed that we are living in an age where history has been completely forgotten? Freedom is what we are supposed to stand for and freedom is what people believe that they're fighting and dying for. Our country was founded when oppressed people discovered the strength to protest against the imperialism of a far off country and yet we've turned into the oppressors. The people of America fought for the right to democratically elect their leaders, but our Constitution has virtually been thrown out the window. We now live in a country whose leader was not democratically elected. Are we so different from the people of Iraq? What crime did they commit besides not deposing their tyrant? And now we're supposed to believe that freedom equals bombing a city full of people into rubble?

Thanks to the efforts of my friends and family who I managed to call while on the way to jail, I was released just before noon on Friday, March 21st. In all that time, I was never read my rights, never told what I was charged with and never got to make a phone call. If we don't protest, even more of our civil liberties will be chipped away. How many more rights of people in the US and elsewhere have to fall by the wayside before people stand up and say a resounding NO? I apologize to the rest of the world for the behavior of my country, but please believe that we're trying!

America is no longer the land of the free, but I pray that it's still the home of the brave.

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