Occupy neighborhood groups say protest provision will chill political speech of communities of color

Occupy neighborhood groups say protest provision will chill political speech of communities of color

Occupy neighborhood groups have sent out a stern letter to their local aldermen about Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s new protest provision, saying the measures will keep low-income communities from speaking out against budget cuts hurting their neighborhoods.

“It is difficult to overstate the contrast between celebrating the life and work of Dr. [Martin Luther] King [Jr.] on Monday, and codifying the suppression of dissent on Wednesday,” said Occupy Rogers Park and Occupy the South Side in their press release, which called on aldermen to sign their names against the rule, which the groups say will permanently chill democratic rights in Chicago.

Both Rogers Park and Chicago’s South Side have high proportions of low-income and minority communities, and the letter noted that the city’s budget cuts have primarily impacted “through legislation and governmental policy … the City’s predominantly black and Hispanic south.”

The new protest provisions, it said, could restrict the right to protest about these concerns, which “would be unconscionable.”

Emanuel’s provision reduces the duration of demonstrations and double the fines for being arrested while demonstrating, among other tightened restrictions on protest. Emanuel originally said the rules would only be in place for the spring G8 and NATO conference, but then backtracked, saying that the changes were actually permanent.

Aldermen are asked to sign their name to a pledge: “Under no circumstances will I fail to vote against City of Chicago (proposed) ordinances restricting free speech, or any variation thereof that additionally restricts in any way the right of the people of Chicago to exercise their rights to free speech and assembly.”

Read the letter below:

Dear Alderman:

We are writing to draw your attention to policy concerns about legislation pending for the City Council meeting scheduled for January 18, 2012. Specifically of concern are O2011-9743.pdf , “Amendment of various sections of Municipal Code and providing associated authorization regarding
upcoming NATO and G-8 summits, and O2011-9742, “Amendment of various provisions of
Municipal Code regarding parades, athletic events and public assemblies.”

As you are no doubt aware, Mayor Emanuel sponsored this ordinance and has promoted it in the media as a “temporary” measure aimed at controlling protesters during specified events taking place later this year. As you’ve surely read, the Mayor has since been forced to retract his claim that these changes were ever meant to be temporary. Another blatant inconsistency is that the ordinance applies to the entire city, while the NATO and G8 summits occur only downtown. Other inconsistencies in the presentation of this ordinance are similarly problematic.

Given what the ordinance actually says, it cannot be construed as an effort to protect the integrity of G8 and NATO conferences. This measure is a permanent attack on public protest in the City of Chicago. The
consequences of this attack will be far reaching, and will be felt by protesters throughout the city, most of whom will never have any connection to the protests associated with these events.

As you are also aware, we celebrate the legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on January 16, 2012. Dr. King’s legacy is not one of obedience to municipal authorities, but rather the inspiring story of a
man who led a community that was willing to face down oppressive lawmakers by violating exactly the type of ordinance the Mayor is asking you to support.

*It is difficult to overstate the contrast between celebrating the life and work of Dr. King on Monday, and codifying the suppression of dissent on Wednesday. *

More disturbing than the symbolism of attacking Dr. King’s legacy is the perpetuation of the continued oppression that he gave his life to oppose. This ordinance does not exist in a vacuum. After all, political speech is not about speech itself. It is about issues of public policy that affect citizens who wish to convey their concerns in the public space. While the city’s leadership has talked of tough choices, and the need to balance the budget, communities of Color have been forced to endure the greatest losses in areas of education, medical care, and access to living-wage employment. Restricting our ability to speak to those concerns would be unconscionable.

Citizens of the City of Chicago are facing attacks on the fundamental building blocks of their lives. We are losing access to health care, seeing their schools close, and losing our jobs. In each case, the impact of
these attacks has been deliberately targeted, through legislation and governmental policy, at the City’s predominantly black and Hispanic south side neighborhoods.

With regard to jobs, an analysis by the Chicago Reader demonstrates that the overwhelming majority of the City’s payroll reductions will fall on communities of Color. With regard to health care, the City is closing six
mental health clinics, five of which are in the same neighborhoods where jobs are being cut. With regard to schools, a map of recent adverse school actions falls again in the same Black and Hispanic neighborhoods where jobs and health care are being cut.

Enacting a new ordinance to suppress dissent by citizens with good cause to complain is bad enough. To enact such an ordinance two days after Martin Luther King Day is a disrespectful slap in the face to his legacy.

The work of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is not a past triumph best left to history books. It is a continuing struggle that opposes governmental oppression against communities of Color. Out of respect for
Dr. King, your constituents, and the spirit of peaceful protest, we are asking you to sign the attached pledge, which rejects this errant legislation.


Occupy the South Side and Occupy Rogers Park

Photo credit: abjam77

© Community Renewal Society 2011

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