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Pack the Courtroom

On the 6th Anniversary of the U.S. Invasion of Iraq:

City of Chicago Again Tries to Block The Right to March

The next court date is:
2 PM, Monday, February 9
Daley Center, Courtroom 1107
50 W. Washington

A Legal Update on the Struggle to Preserve Our Right to March

GLN permalink posted February 5, 2009
page updated February 8, 2009

In early January Chicago area peace and immigrant rights activists filed a permit application with the City of Chicago to have the right to march in the streets of the Pilsen neighborhood on March 14th -- roughly the 6th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

We won that permit, only to have it revoked, only to win it again via the City's own appeals process, and now only to have the City file suit against us to try to take it away again.

While certain provisions of the city's permit ordinance are fairly complicated, one provision is very clear: with limited exceptions concerning permit applications made right at the beginning of the year, if the City fails to respond by fax or telephone to an application within five business days of it being made, the City is obligated to grant a permit following the provisions in the application. This is what happened with our application this year – the City did not respond in time, and so legally we should have automatically received our permit.

The Background

The various deadlines in the City of Chicago's permit ordinance are far from being minor details – they are there for very sound, 1st Amendment reasons. Anyone vaguely familiar with the history of activism in our city knows how during the infamous Democratic Convention of 1968, the current Mayor's father delayed consideration of activists' permits for anti-war marches and rallies so as to disrupt and thwart the protests. Many months in advance, activists would apply to have permits for events, only to have the City delay and delay consideration of the permit applications until the activists had no time left to publicize their events. For many years, this made it extremely difficult to do any kind of cutting edge community organizing in this city.

Today, even though polls have long showed that an overwhelming majority of Chicagoans are against the Iraq war, our mayor has shown a continual hostility towards anti-war organizers. Given that Chicago has by far the most militarized big city school system in the nation, and that Daley has long been a patsey for the pro-war policies of presidents of both parties, his hostility towards us should come as no surprise.

The City rejected several other permit application for anti-war marches on previous anniversaries of the Iraq war and on other dates. During hearings last week, Department of Transportation Assistant Director Mike Simon testified that during his career at the DOT he had processed approximately 18,000+ applications, of which he had rejected only 20 to 25. Of those 20 to 25, he said that six or more of the rejections were of applications submitted by anti-war organizers involved in the current effort to win a permit.

In November and in early January, activists with the Gay Liberation Network (who also worked on the permit application for March 14th) applied for two parade permits, both of which the City very reluctantly granted after it had failed to respond to the applications within the required five day deadlines. As each event grew closer, Commander Frank Gross of the Chicago Police Department's Special Events Section twice telephoned GLN in attempts to get us to extensively modify our permits. Most of the suggested changes we felt dramatically diminished the impact of our 1st Amendment messages, and so we rejected them and insisted that we be allowed to carry forth the protests as applied for. From his tone of voice, we gathered that Commander Gross was not pleased with this result, but knew he had little legal recourse.

Fast-forwarding to today, as Gross testified in last week's hearing, he knew that aside from the downtown and South Side St. Patrick's Day parades, we were the only other applicants in the City aiming to have a march on St. Patrick's Day weekend this year. As a document introduced into evidence last week showed, on January 13th, one day before the deadline for the City's response to our march permit application, Gross wrote and faxed a letter to Mike Simon insisting that he grant no other parade permits for St. Patrick's Day weekend other than for the two St. Patrick's Day parades.

I'll let you decide whether Gross's fax was revenge for our previous permit successes, or merely an attempt to address the logistical hurdles caused by the St. Patrick's Day parades. During last week's hearing we showed several examples of the City rejecting our applications, claiming that the proposed events caused the City undue logistical problems, and yet granted other organizations permits for events that put far greater strains on city resources.

The Legal Grounds For Last Week's Victory

On January 14th Mike Simon's assistant Rica Wallace said that she mailed a letter of rejection to us dated January 13th. On January 15th – one day after the deadline for the City to reply – Wallace testified that she faxed the letter of rejection to us. Subsection (j) of the City's permit ordinance clearly states that in addition to replying by U.S. mail within five business days, the city was obligated to communicate its rejection to us by telephone or fax within five business days. It did not, and showing an honesty all too rare in city bureaucrats, Mike Simon testified that a telephone conversation he had with me within the five day deadline was neither a rejection nor an acceptance of our application – he admitted that he had not even read the application at that time.

When the Administrative Law Officer made his ruling last week on our appeal of the city's rejection of our permit application, he granted the City the benefit of the doubt on virtually every argument the City made, however absurd. However, on the question of the City breaking the deadline, the testimony of the City's own witnesses left him no wiggle room. The City had clearly attempted to violate subsection (j) of the ordinance by rejecting our application after the deadline and forcing us to appeal their rejection. This is probably the first time in City history that it has lost a parade permit appeal before one of its own Administrative Law Officers.

The City Strikes Back

Last Friday the city filed suit against us, and though it is now claiming that it wants the whole permit issue resolved quickly, it didn't bother to fax the suit to us, instead just sending it via first class mail. On Monday, with the City's suit now "live" against us, the City filed in court for an "Emergency Motion" to reverse the issuance of our march permit. This City delivered the suit and emergency motion to 8th Day Center for Justice's Bob Bossie on Monday afternoon and faxed them to me shortly thereafter. The documents insisted that we appear in court within less than 24 hours to answer their motion – even though this was the first news we'd gotten that we'd been sued! To say that the City was using dirty tricks is an understatement.

Their "Emergency Motion" was littered with a few blatant lies and many half-truths about last week's hearing that I can't go into here. The most important issue is that if the judge had granted this motion today, we would have been screwed. Our permit would have been "temporarily" taken back – and the City could just then delay and delay and delay, and we would have for all practical purposes been forced to accept the lousy March 7th date and march route, or get no permit at all.

What happened today could best be described as us having dodged a bullet. It was not a victory, but fortunately it was not a defeat either. Even though we had no real lawyer and less than 24 hours to prepare, the City attempted to get the judge to rule today on their emergency motion, and hence completely screw us. They were playing very, very dirty. Fortunately the judge told them, at least for now.

Interestingly, today it was very senior level city attorneys trying to screw us – two of the three attorneys we faced were so-called "Deputy Corporation Counsel." There are only about six or seven "Deputy Corporation Counsel" in the entire city, and they are the second-in-command to the city's chief lawyer herself, Myra Georges.

In a strange way we should take their presence as a compliment from our enemies. They take us seriously enough, and are so determined to defeat us, that they have sent in their highest-paid, "big gun" lawyers. In the words of Ghandi, first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

Unfortunately, the fact that the City has brought out its "big gun" lawyers against us also means that it will take a great deal courage from our new judge if he is to defy them, and rule strictly on the legal merits of the case, rather than make a political decision. We have a very strong case, but given the forces arrayed against us, having a strong legal case is not enough. We must continue the community mobilization if we are going to have a chance to win.

What's next?

The next court date will be 2 PM, Monday, February 9 (Room 1107 of the Daley Center, 50 W. Washington Street), at which time I'm relieved to say that we will have genuine lawyers representing us, thanks to the Chicago Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.

At that time, the judge might hear arguments from the attorneys about the merits of this crucial "Emergency Motion," especially if the transcripts from last week's Administrative Law Hearing are available at that time. If it doesn't happen at Monday's court date, it will probably happen at the next court date after that. The battle over this motion is the whole case, and so I can't stress enough the importance of having a large crowd show up at the next one or two court dates.

What You Can Do:

1) Get your friends and neighbors to attend Monday's court date – let's pack the courtroom!

2) If you know anyone in the media who might be sympathetic, call them and talk to them about covering this story. Tell them why the march is important to you and your community.

3) Call your Alderman and demand that he tell the Mayor to call off this ridiculous legal battle. With the City budget a shambles and city workers in vital services being laid off, it is absurd that the city is wasting tax dollars on lawyers (each of whom bills at hundreds of dollars per hour) who are attacking the 1st Amendment rights of our community members. A list of Aldermen and their telephone numbers can be found here.

Again, I cannot stress the following point enough: A good legal case will only get us so far – and as it turns out, not nearly far enough. If we are going to win, it is absolutely necessary that we not only continue to pack the courtroom as we did so well today, but that we take every opportunity we can to talk about this protest -- and what the city is doing to stop it -- to our neighbors, our friends, people we know from work and/or school. Try to get them to the next court date, and try to get your local media involved.

Andy Thayer



Press conference - Hearing on Permit for Chicago 6th Anniversary March for Peace (Feb. 3, 2009) - part 1 & 2


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