On Sunday morning, in 90 degree weather, Grant Park was filled with artists, students, workers, and educators, all antiwar activists, gathered for the main protest against the NATO summit in Chicago. It was the largest demonstration, following three days of anti-NATO actions Buses brought protesters from surrounding states, as well as places as far as New York City and Portland. I saw people who I had interned with at In These Times magazine, having come from Texas and Washington DC. The Chicago left was not only represented, but so was a geographically larger community of activists. My question of day was: “We know it’s thousands, but how many thousands of people are here today?” Still, estimates vary from 2,000 to 7,000 at the height of the demonstration.
From noon to 2 pm was a rally in the park, which would be followed by a march to McCormick Place, where the NATO proceedings were going on inside. The rally was an extremely peaceful congregation that consisted of two hours of speeches, musical acts and vying for shady spots in the park’s green areas. Protesters were surprised to experience very little police presence in the park. Aside from one officer following me to a trash can and checking inside after I’d thrown away leftovers from lunch, police presence at the rally was, for the most part, unseen and unfelt.
This dynamic shifted quite suddenly as we began to march to State Street. Chicago and State Police lined our route and strictly would not let anyone pass their line. Each officer was equipped with at least six weapons and many of them suited in heavy padding, “riot gear.”