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War protesters finally get OK to march on Michigan Ave.

March 16, 2006


For three years, Chicagoans who oppose the war in Iraq have longed to raise their voices on Michigan Avenue -- one of the city's most prominent streets.

They've filed permit requests with the city. They've negotiated with Chicago Police. They've been arrested and even filed a federal lawsuit.

But now, stealing a page from Mickey Mouse, they've found a solution.

'Festival of Rights'

The marchers this year pulled the application filed each December for the Michigan Avenue "Festival of Lights" Disney pageant, run by the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association. They echoed the timing and route of that parade, and this time, it worked.

Hence, "The Festival of Rights,'' as marchers have dubbed their parade, will take place Saturday, the third anniversary of the Iraq War.

"First Amendment rights don't mean a thing if you don't have an audience,'' said Andy Thayer, a march organizer. "If you don't speak your mind when atrocities such as this war go on, the powers that be will continue to wage them. Protests in the 1960s played a vital role in ending the illegal Vietnam War.''

The march kicks off on March 18 at 7 p.m. at Ogden School, near Walton and Oak, and will proceed east to Michigan, south to Wacker, west to Clark and south to Washington.

Several smaller protests will be held around the city and will feed into the larger parade -- something that has drawn concern from police in part because they didn't know about the marches.

A large deployment of Chicago Police will be on duty to monitor the crowd. Deputy Supt. Charles Williams is hoping for a repeat of last Friday's immigration march, which brought 100,000 people to the Loop to peacefully protest a proposal to criminalize undocumented workers.

Chicago police preparing

"We want them to be able to get their message out and do it peaceably,'' Williams said. "I'll be out there. I'd like to see nothing more than what occurred last Friday when everyone had the opportunity to get their message out. Do it in a manner that doesn't break the law."

In 2003, when the group gathered to protest the start of the war -- no permit was pulled because it was a reaction to the start of the war -- thousands of marchers clashed with police along the route, and 543 people were arrested.

Some of the marchers took to Lake Shore Drive, shutting it down during rush hour, and also tried to get to Michigan Avenue. A federal lawsuit has been filed on behalf of those arrested at the protest.

Chicago Police and city officials say they resisted the group's efforts to protest on Michigan in following years because of the times they had requested to march, but Thayer said marchers suspect the Daley administration doesn't look favorably on anti-war demonstrators.


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