Monday, January 14
“I haven’t slept well for a month,” the guy said. “I gotta do something.”
“You too?” I said. I tell him that I live next to the el. It runs at ground level out where I am. Every half hour or so, the Ravenswood rumbles by. When it’s wet out the train’s conductor pad shoots up showers of sparks as it comes into and out of contact with the third rail. Sometimes the flash happens right outside my window, splashing my bedroom with a sudden blue-white glow. Over the last few weeks, the racket of each oncoming train has roused me slightly. In that surreal state of half-sleep, I jump up in bed, my heart racing. An endless second later, I realize the true source of the flash. It isn’t that other thing, I say to myself, embarrassed at my own jitters.
You know, that other thing.
We’ve never met before, but after that one little exchange it seems as though the guy and I are old pals. “You coming?” he says. Nah, I tell him after thinking about it for a moment. It’s 9 AM on the day before the day Iraq is supposed to get out of Kuwait. The guy sits down in front of one of the entrances of the Dirksen Federal Building, joining about a dozen people already there.
The crowd of protesters around the federal building is a little disappointing. There are perhaps only three or four dozen, split into groups of 10 or 12, playing cat and mouse with the police and building security. Uniformed guards open up one entrance to let workers–those with IDs–into the building. Within minutes, protesters run over to block the revolving doors. Security closes that entrance and hustles over to another one; they let in as many workers as they can before they have to shut that one, too.
Some protesters sit in front of unused emergency doors–either they’re unaware that they will be ignored or this is as close to being arrested as they want to get. Every so often a cop passes, looks at them, and shrugs. “Sit there all day for all I care,” one says.
“This is it?” I think. The newspapers have reported that Americans are pouring out into the streets by the thousands to protest the imminent war, yet in Chicago, we’re lucky if it’s 50 people out here. They’re trying, unsuccessfully, to shut down the federal building. And half of them don’t even know which doors to block.
One of the people sitting in front of an unused door is like a modern-day Abbie Hoffman: witty, charming, and brash. He grins a lot and hugs people who join his little group of blockaders. “Take the day off,” he shouts to passersby and bystanders. “Come join us. It’s a beautiful sunny day!” His friends laugh. It is indeed bright, but it is also the middle of winter and there are several inches of snow on the ground.
The cops have been ignoring them and even the bystanders are getting tired of watching them do nothing. Hoffman spies a car stuck in Jackson Boulevard, its driver waiting for pedestrians to clear the entrance to the building’s underground garage. “Let’s go,” he says, as if a light bulb has appeared over his head. His cohorts all get up and walk the 25 yards to the ramp. Other groups of sitters follow. They form a line across the ramp, lock arms, and sit down. Now they’ve got the attention of the police.
About 10 cops from the contingent of 75 or so here gather around the new obstacle line. The cops have been pretty good-natured all along. One protester has brought a big box of Dunkin’ Donuts for them. One by one, the cops take a doughnut and flirt with her. Some cops joke with the sitters. A paddy wagon pulls up, then backs up close, its box door facing the protesters, and the cops methodically resume making their arrests.
“Sir,” they say, or “Ma’am, I’ll have to ask you to move, please.” Each sitter refuses. “This is a police order,” the cops say, sounding like cartoon bears. “If you don’t move, you’ll be arrested. I’ll ask you once again, would you please move?” After the second refusal, the cop makes an arrest.
It takes three cops to arrest each sitter. One cop straps a plastic identification bracelet–like those hospital patients wear–on each detainee’s wrist. Another cop affixes plastic cuffs–these are like thick garbage-bag ties–around both wrists. The two cops then lift each person by the arms and walk him or her to the paddy wagon, where another cop takes the person by the arm and guides him or her up the step and into the box.
Soon a Jaguar pulls up to the blockade. The driver sounds her horn. “Wha?” one cop yells with his palms out. The driver rolls down her window. “I have to get in there,” she says. “Not today,” the cop tells her. One protester tells her, “Take the day off!” She gives him a dirty look. Before she pulls away, she issues a warning to the cop. “You’re gonna pay for my towing,” she says. “Oh yeah. OK,” he says as he tips his cap.
As the arrests continue, a man elbows his way through the tight crowd of onlookers, and begins to heckle the cops. “Tough guy, huh?” he says. Then this: “Is peace a crime?” And this: “Arrest Neil Bush!”
“He ain’t here,” one cop snarls.
One sitter, a young guy dressed in black, refuses to stand and be cuffed. “I’m willing to be arrested but you’ll have to pick me up,” he tells a cop. The cop tries a knockout hold. He presses his pointed thumbs into the soft areas directly below the kid’s ears. The kid grimaces. “Police brutality! Look, everybody, look!” the heckler screams. Others begin to chant “The whole world is watching!” The cop drops his hold and with another cop twists the kid’s arms behind his back. The kid pops up off the ground and is led to the paddy wagon.
Just as the cops finish clearing the ramp, there is a commotion to the east. First a few, then a few dozen, and eventually hundreds of marchers turn the corner onto Jackson from State Street. Flanked by cops on foot and horseback, the marchers wave signs and flags like some conquering army. The crowd here cheers them. Where the hell did they come from?
The lead marchers pass me–chanting, stomping, beckoning. One of the marchers pulls out for a breather and leans against a parking meter. “Where did these people come from?” I ask him.
“Oh all over–Chicago, the midwest, all over the country . . .”
“No, no, no. Today, now. Where are they walking from?”
“Oh. The Standard Oil Building. We started here at the federal building at about 7:30 this morning. When we got enough people, we went down to Michigan Avenue then over to Standard Oil. They wouldn’t let us in but we tried,” he says. He’s heard rumors that the police used their billy clubs there.
The guy’s name is Jeff. He says he’s a student at the University of Chicago and this is his first peace march. The last time there were peace marches in Chicago he was just learning to walk.
Jeff pushes himself off the meter and joins the parade. I follow him. “I think some guys were burning a flag,” he says. “Then the cops moved in.”
“Did you see that happen?”
“No, but that’s what I heard.”
A marcher moves past us wearing a tattered American flag tucked into his belt like a loincloth. I ask Jeff, “What do you think about that, burning the flag and all?”
“Hey, I’m not anti-American. You could call me a ‘good American’–you know what I mean? I’m here, I’m thinking, I’m participating. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do here? I’m not a flag-waver but I’m certainly not going to burn a flag. What’s the point?” he says. With that, he runs ahead of me to get back into step with the marchers.
Instead of going to Federal Plaza, next to the Kluczynski Building, the marchers veer left, going south on Dearborn Street, which is one-way northbound. Cars stop dead in the middle of the street as marchers stream past. Drivers peer out their windows, perhaps frightened at first, then resigned to being stuck here for a while. The march is blocks long.
A cop with a craggy face is one of the many assigned to walk the flanks of the march. Every so often, he jogs a few steps to keep up with the marchers. “Where are we going?” I ask, as I match his step.
“I don’t know,” he says. “And I don’t think they know either.”
I expect the cops to hold us up as we hit the eight-lane Congress Parkway. Surprisingly, they’re holding off traffic as we turn right on Congress and fill the street. A half dozen or so young people appear to be leading the march, some of them apparently not out of their teens and most dressed in the uniform of Columbia College and the School of the Art Institute–lots of black berets and kaffiyahs. They run back and forth tightening up the line. “Come on,” they yell. “Get closer. Get it together!” We’re gathering in front of the old federal office building, which now contains an Army recruitment center; it takes up a whole block of Clark Street south of Congress. Somebody knew where we were going after all.
Chants peal out: “Hell no, we won’t go, we won’t fight for Amoco”; “No blood for oil”; “Send George Bush, send Dan Quayle, send Neil Bush when he gets out of jail.” A few of the workers watching us wave or flash peace signs. One woman on an upper floor holds up a hand-drawn peace symbol. The crowd roars its approval. “Quit your job and take to the streets,” one marcher yells up.
After 15 minutes we turn and begin to head back east on Congress. The police have blocked off eastbound traffic but the crowd overflows into the westbound lanes. Once again drivers slow then stop to wait for the crowd to pass. Marchers draw peace symbols into the winter grime on the cars. Some hold signs that say “Honk for peace.” Stalled drivers lean on their horns, the sound mixing with the chants to create a cacophony, thrilling the marchers, many of whom scream in excitement. There are no buildings on our right until we pass State Street. There the street becomes a canyon and the noise becomes deafening.
It feels as though my hair is standing on end. Images are being etched into my memory: more than 3,000 people clapping and yelling, placards, art students, professional protesters, people in the windows of every tall building we pass pumping their fists and giving peace signs, the warmth of the bright sun. At Wabash, an el train stops and the engineer leans out and gives the peace sign, then sounds the train horn again and again.
The cops continue to walk with us, of course, spaced about five yards apart. They too seem to be basking in the sun and may even be exhilarated as well. Then again, maybe they’re scared, remembering as we pass the intersection of Michigan and Congress that week in August more than 20 years ago.
We burst out into the sunshine again at Michigan, then we hit Columbus, where we turn north. Ahead of us stands the Amoco Building, a monument to the cause of the imminent war. The mounted police gallop ahead to meet a few paddy wagons and some foot cops at Jackson. They steer us off course to the right, toward Lake Shore Drive. “It’s OK,” one guy says to his girlfriend, “we’ll just get there from the opposite direction.”
As we near the drive, our pace quickens. A hundred feet from the intersection, I hear the heavy footsteps, someone running up behind me. I glance over my shoulder at a 30-ish man. He slaps me on the back and whoops, “Who would’ve imagined we’re taking over Lake Shore!”
The police have cleared northbound traffic off the drive but many marchers stream into the southbound lanes. We begin to run and take up the “We won’t fight for Amoco” chant. Then we see the skirmish line down the way, at Monroe. The cops, tiny from the distance, stand shoulder to shoulder, backed by horses and big riot vans. “This is the stand,” someone says to no one in particular.
Ad hoc parade marshals scurry back and forth, trying to get the marchers to stop. “Pull together!” they shout. “We’ve all gotta be strong together! Get close! Hold it!” Here we are, I think, far away from the office buildings and pedestrians. What are we walking into? The cops seemed so familiar before.
Two, maybe three minutes later, our ranks have been closed and we’re ready to march again. The people in the front row walk arm in arm. “They’re not gonna let us get to the Amoco, that’s all,” I say to the woman next to me. She laughs nervously, “Yeah, they’re not going to do anything. It’s an election year. Daley doesn’t want to be embarrassed.”
When we get within 20 feet of the skirmish line, we notice that the cops are lined up across the drive only on the northern edge of the intersection, allowing us to turn into Monroe. Some marchers flash two fingers at the cops. “Peace police,” they chant.
“See?” the woman next to me grins.
There are no tall buildings here on Monroe between Lake Shore Drive and Michigan Avenue, and the noise of the crowd is diminished. The only things I can hear are a few people around me chanting, a guy banging on a drum, and the clip-clops of police horses on each side of us.
As we approach the Loop, the echoes off the tall buildings ignite the crowd. Tourists and shoppers stare. Some smile, others look frightened. A few take snapshots of the parade. A couple of girls point their video camera at us. At Adams and Dearborn, two elderly ladies join the march to the accompaniment of cheers.
We pour onto Federal Plaza once again. Someone shouts, “Shut down the federal building!” We go once around the building then slow uncertainly, coming to a halt back in the plaza. A man carries a colorful sign reading “Another Phag for Peace.”
It’s 11:30 now, just before lunchtime. A man says “People are going to start coming out of their offices in a little while.” His friends nod eagerly and begin to chant “Join us!” The rest of the crowd, looking up to the office buildings and pumping their fists, eventually take up the chant. The crowd begins to move again, this time heading west on Jackson toward the financial center. “Ah, that’s the ticket,” a man with a gray beard says. “Forget the federal building over here. It’s only envelope stuffers and custodians. What the hell do they have to do with the war? We’ve got to go to the Board of Trade, the Continental Bank, and all the rest of the banks. They’re in charge!”
We stop in front of the Board of Trade. A woman hollers through a bullhorn, urging peace. “Be at the federal building tomorrow at three o’clock,” she says finally.
At first it seems as though the action may be finished for today, but the crowd surges farther west on Jackson. The cops appear to have concluded the march is over, for they no longer flank us at first. At Wells, we stall momentarily. “Let’s go,” a running woman shouts, and we do. Where? We’ll find out, I guess.
I’m now at the front of the line close to the leaders. They buzz in each others’ ears, then run back in the line to shout encouragement and directions.
We stop again at Franklin. One guy has an idea. “Shut down the expressway!” he shouts. The nearby crowd is split at his suggestion. The leaders seem overwhelmed. They listen first to those who favor going to the Kennedy, then to others who say we should stay within sight of office workers and pedestrians. The leaders look at each other, hoping someone will make a decision.
Now the rear precincts of the crowd have caught up and are pressing us forward. We continue to filter through the stopped traffic on Jackson. A little boy sits in his father’s lap in their van. The boy waves at us out the half-opened window before his scowling father can stop him. A young woman touches his hand. “We want you to live, little one,” she says. The father grudgingly smiles.
Now the crowd stops at Jackson and Wacker in front of the Sears Tower, and the expressway debate is revived. After several minutes, the leaders seem convinced that we should go to the Kennedy. Some of them begin walking purposefully west toward it. The crowd for the most part follows instead some older, more cool-headed people who begin to head north on Wacker. “Come on,” one of them waves. “We’ve got to be seen downtown!”
The leaders turn to regain the front of the line. As two of them pass me, one of them says to the other, “We can’t let this thing go wherever they want!”
Between Jackson and Adams, a little group gets separated from the main group by the entrance ramps to Lower Wacker. There is a commotion in the smaller group, and we stop to look. The cops have a protester bent over the hood of a paddy wagon. He’s one of the few African-Americans in the group. He struggles but to no avail–a half dozen cops hold him. We lean over the guardrail to get a better look. A chant arises: “Let him go!” A cop with a yellow checked headband (signifying his supervisory status) hears the chant, flinches, and turns toward us. Many chanters are nearly hanging off the guardrail, shaking their fists at the cops. The yellow-band cop just grins at us as if to say “Nothin’ you can do from there.”
The cops toss the guy into the paddy wagon, and we start to move again. We turn east on Adams. A teenage girl turns to me and says, “The cops are scary.” A lot of them are scared too, I tell her. “I don’t think so,” she says. She is a student at a private school on the North Shore. “How come you’re not there today?” I ask. “Oh, my parents gave me permission to come here,” she says. “Some of my teachers know I’m here, too.”
When we reach Adams and Wells, a scuffle starts between the police and marchers. The cops, shoulder to shoulder, shove a middle section of marchers out of the street toward the sidewalk. The younger guys standing face-to-face with the cops taunt them. The cops stand in a tight bunch staring down the marchers, now all contained on the sidewalk. The group begins to chant “Shame, shame!”
A guy with a bullhorn chants “Cops suck!” until a middle-aged woman grabs his arm and implores him to stop. High-ranking officers snake through the police line, whispering in various ears. After hearing what they have to say, each cop lets his shoulders sag and takes a more relaxed stance.
One of the head cops orders his men to line the wall in front of the Midland Hotel as we pass it on Adams. There are about 50 of us left in this section. When we get to the federal building, we seem to be bringing up the rear. Since the Board of Trade, where the crowd numbered something like 3,000, the whole group has shrunk to about 300. Those who got to the plaza before us cheer our arrival. A leader takes the bullhorn and urges everyone to assemble here tomorrow. “There will be no work, no school, no anything. No business as usual,” he says. He urges anyone who wants to to come with him to police headquarters at 11th and State, so we can support “our brothers and sisters who were brutally arrested this morning.”
An older fellow takes the bullhorn. He wears a veteran’s cap and speaks in an accent of some kind. He says he’s a World War II vet and wants peace. He also demands a 10 percent cut in defense spending. The crowd loves him. A speaker from the Socialist Workers Party tries to drum up support for an independent mayoral candidate, a fellow named Warren. “We need 25,000 signatures,” he implores. The crowd is slowly dispersing.
A quarter of an hour later, the foot cops, laughing and slapping each other’s backs, pile into paddy wagons for the ride to their home districts.
Tuesday, January 15
It is 3 PM. News commentators last night spoke in hushed, resigned tones. Yesterday was exhilarating; today is depressing. It is overcast and misty.
The crowd at Federal Plaza is smaller and grim. Where are all the parents with babies in their arms? Where are the middle-aged men with beards? The gray-haired women? Today’s speakers are young and strident; they shout so much that their words are garbled through the bullhorn.
A well-dressed, 40-ish woman nervously prowls the crowd. She catches my eye and smiles. She introduces herself. Carol. She’s an attorney. Driving home from work, she heard about this rally on the radio. Had to stop to see what was going on. Somehow, some way, she found a legal parking space. “This war is nuts,” she says.
None of them can be more than 22 and they’re all dressed in revolutionary chic–kaffiyahs, black leather, army fatigues, and combat boots.
A guy from the Revolutionary Communist Party has the mike. He moves his whole body, like a violinist during a recital, as he speaks. “We are one with our brothers in Iraq!” he screeches.
Carol snorts. “Who do you know in Iraq?” she says loud enough only for me to hear.
A woman takes the bullhorn and tells the shocking tale of some U.S. soldiers who objected to our mobilization in the Persian Gulf and fled to Switzerland. The Swiss authorities, she says, turned the deserters over to the U.S. Army who slapped them in chains. She was aghast at this brutal treatment. It was a symbol of U.S. oppression, she says: “We must support our brothers and sisters in the armed forces who resist!” she howls.
I can’t take it anymore. “Why the hell did they join the Army?” I yell. “What did they expect?” Many in the crowd turn around, shocked at this breach of unity.
“That doesn’t matter,” a guy says, “we have to support the resistance wherever it is.” Then he begins a chant: “The people, united, will never be divided.”
I’ll have a tough time, I conclude, rebelling against the rebellers.
A few more older people gravitate toward us. Still, the crowd is predominantly young. Once the speakers shout themselves hoarse, we begin to march around the federal building.
After once around most of the older contingent stop to watch an argument in progress. A bantam woman with an Eastern European accent holds an old American flag. “Support your president!” she shrieks at some marchers who’ve stopped to set her straight. Her son holds a newer American flag. He is in his early 20s.
“Do you want your son to go over and die in Saudi Arabia?” a marcher yells at the woman.
“I’ll fight for my country whenever my president asks me to,” the son bellows. The two sides launch into a harangue against each other. Neither pauses to hear the other’s argument.
“We just want peace,” Carol yells. I’m getting a headache. It’s like a tennis match–one side volleys by yelling; the other returns the volley by yelling even louder.
“Let’s go,” I say to Carol. “Nothing’s happening here.” “No, no. Stay. This is fun,” she says.
Finally, the two sides get tired of barking at each other. “The Buddhists have a philosophy about that,” a photographer says to me. “They were just swallowing each other’s shit.”
We march again today toward the old federal building on South Clark Street. At Congress, the police hold us up. They aren’t eager for us to block rush hour traffic. At the intersection of Congress and Dearborn, there is a skirmish. Mounted cops move their horses sideways into the crowd to get people up on the sidewalks. Some marchers swing at the horses and the cops. People scream. Cops toss people into riot vans and paddy wagons. The crowd has been effectively split up. Only half or a third of us make it to the old federal building.
We chant once again toward the upper floors. We stage our first die-in here, too: Somebody makes a squealing noise like the sound of an incoming missile, then the crowd counts down–10, 9, 8 . . . –at 1 we all fall to the ground, dead. A television van parked at the end of the block is engulfed by protesters. A camera operator stands on top of the van, flinging his arms in the air to egg us on. Some of us are only too happy to oblige him. Others turn away disgustedly.
I have an urge to break some of the tension. I take liberties with the chant “No blood for oil.” Instead, I chant “Boil Bush in oil!” Those around me laugh. A very young woman, dressed in black, her hair dyed purple, turns and addresses me gravely: “We’re here for peace. I don’t think that what you say is in the spirit of what we want. How can violence solve this situation?” I resist the urge to explain the concept of humor to her.
We leave Clark Street and now we’re back on Congress. Some of us wonder where most of the crowd went. We are only about 500 strong now. We head back into the Loop. On Monroe, someone has been lighting little paper bags full of charcoal and leaving them right next to buildings. Marchers try to stomp them out, succeeding only in spreading the coals and the flames. Bank workers and waiters look out their windows with fear on their faces. I see one kid lighting a match. I clamp my arm around his shoulder, tightly, and ask him what he’s doing. He’s a fresh-faced kid. He shows me a candle. “This is all I’m doing,” he says. Some young women, friends of his, rush to his defense. “He’s not starting those fires,” they protest.
The cops flank the march like ushers, blocking streets they don’t want us to go down, leaving open streets they do. But the cops make a mistake. Though it’s obvious they expect us to continue down Monroe, they leave the southbound lanes of Wabash unprotected. When we get to Wabash and Monroe, the leaders stage a die-in on the street. Suddenly, they jump up and run down Wabash. “Take the streets!” one yells. The rest, screaming, follow. Carol and I and our gang follow too, but we neither run nor scream–we are out of breath.
Carol has been threatening to go home ever since we left the federal building. She has to change, get dinner ready, and pick up her 12-year-old daughter from Hebrew school. Me, I’m not as infatuated with this crowd as I was with yesterday’s. Yet neither of us can leave. It feels good to shout to the world that we don’t want this war. And we sort of feel like chaperones here.
The marchers run south to Adams, turn east toward the Art Institute, then run up Michigan to Monroe, where the cops have formed a line. The lead runners must stop, and a melee erupts. The cops push people back; many marchers try to surge ahead. The horse cops have drawn their billy clubs and are prodding and poking with them.
Carol and I have moved up to where the action is. Snowballs and bits of garbage fly over our heads toward the cops. The kids who are throwing things are chased by the cops into the Art Institute’s plaza. The kids are light and fast. The cops bound by on heavy feet, the equipment dangling from their belts jangling. The cops tackle those they can catch and cuff them. The chant goes up, “The whole world is watching!”
The two feistiest leaders are putting up a good fight at the skirmish line. They too are light and sometimes, when the cops shove them, they fly past me. Yet they rush right back into the fray. One of them, an angry guy with long stringy hair who’s wearing an army surplus jacket, flies past me; I put up my hands and tell him to cool down. “Yeah, sure,” he says, “Fuck you, officer!” He bares his teeth proudly, certain he’s uncovered an infiltrator. Earlier he and his pals had circulated through the crowd and told them the FBI and plainclothes police were marching in our midst.
The crowd retreats to the steps of the Art Institute as the police stop shoving somewhat. The leaders talk strategy while the crowd chants. The leaders decide we’ll stick to the sidewalks and make our way to the Amoco Building. Twenty minutes later, we do.
We shout toward the windows of the skyscraper, its upper floors hidden in the clouds. It is well after five, and no one stands at the windows to see us.
Now it’s back toward the Loop on Randolph. We’ve been marching a long time, almost three hours. Perhaps the cops are getting impatient. At the entrance to the Prudential Building, the horse police cut the crowd in half. Foot cops run up the knoll leading to the front door of the Prudential, where some of the leaders are standing. The crowd pushes in. The cops hold their ground. Gradually, ranking officers once again spread the word to relax. We continue into the Loop.
The crowd stops at the Daley Center and coalesces around the Picasso. As many people as possible climb onto the angled-ramp base of the sculpture to pose for photographers. It’s like a graduation photo.
On the move again, toward Federal Plaza. South of Washington on Dearborn, the cops nab another leader, a young woman dressed in psychedelic colors who must have run 100 miles today relaying instructions from the front lines to the rest of the crowd.
Finally, we reach the federal building. There are at most 150 of us left. The leaders are mostly gone, so others speak up and remind the crowd to return here again tomorrow and the day after and the day after that. No one really wants to leave even though a light rain has started falling. We mill about for 15 minutes or so. Then, down Adams Street, someone notices another crowd approaching accompanied by mounted police and paddy wagons with their blue lights flashing. The groups cheer wildly at each other. This contingent had split off during the scuffle at Congress and Dearborn. They’d marched up Michigan and Lake Shore Drive, closing down first the northbound then the southbound lanes of the drive.
As if this news makes it more bearable for the marchers to leave, many begin to peel away. A few–50 or 75–stay in the plaza to hold an all-night vigil.
Wednesday, January 16
Mayor Richard Daley holds an unscheduled press conference and says “Everybody is against war and everybody does it in a different way.” He says he’s conferred with police superintendent LeRoy Martin in an effort to avoid confrontation. He promises there will be no violence. He even apologizes for the arrest of a radio news reporter during the scuffle at Congress and Dearborn. “It was just a mistake,” he says.
Daley was in his 20s when his father unleashed his own police on protesters. Maybe he’s rebelling, too.
Later that evening, while the TV networks are airing their national news broadcasts, the U.S. and its allies begin the air campaign against Iraq. I am tuned to ABC, which doesn’t break for a commercial for some 45 minutes. Ever since the United Nations force began mobilizing in the Middle East, each network has had a special intro slide reading “The Gulf Crisis” or “Crisis in the Gulf.” When ABC returns from the break, its slide has been replaced by a new one that reads “The Gulf War.”
Thursday, January 17
Mid-afternoon at Federal Plaza. There is almost a perverse atmosphere of relief now that something has actually happened, yet the protesters are more focused and more organized. Something resembling a stage is set against the north wall of the Kluczynski Building; on previous days, speakers climbed up on stone benches near the post office. Old-line activist organizations like Operation PUSH, Clergy and Laity Concerned, and Physicians for Social Responsibility stake out turf next to the Revolutionary Communist Party, Pledge of Resistance, and the Marxist-Leninist Party. Antitobacco and -liquor activist Father Michael Pfleger and his entourage cruise the crowd. Names of the organizations sponsoring speakers clearly reverberate off the high rises–for the first time there is an effective sound system. Mayoral candidate Danny Davis makes a speech. He finishes his remarks with a quote from Marvin Gaye: War is not the answer for only love can conquer hate.
Today a sizable group of counterdemonstrators has gathered. One of every three, it seems, carries a large American flag. They are kept away from the larger crowd of protesters by a line of uniformed security officers and policemen. The flag-wavers shout taunts at the protesters and thrust out their signs calling for support for President Bush and the death of Saddam Hussein. Some protesters line up behind the police and shout back at them. When it becomes apparent that the police won’t let the flag-wavers get their hands on the peace protesters (some of the counterdemonstrators have loudly proclaimed their desire to do so) they march around the building to attack from the east.
Horse cops block their path there, so the flag-wavers try to outrace them back to the other side. This happens several times until the flag-wavers tire of it.
One fellow slips through the cordon and directly confronts a couple dozen protesters, who turn away from the stage to surround him. The lone guy must shout so loudly to be heard over the voices of his opponents that his voice gets hoarse. He lifts his George Bush placards high and his sleeve bares his skin to the subfreezing air.
A middle-aged man carrying a bullhorn belts out his argument over several onlookers’ shoulders into the lone guy’s ear. A woman lays her hand on his arm and gently asks him not to bellow in her ear. The man, unaware of her discomfort, continues to howl. She tugs on his arm and pleads with him to stop. “No,” he says. “This guy’s got to hear what we have to say!” The lone guy turns to the man and offers to buy the megaphone if he’ll stop.
Eventually the protesters begin to march. They snake through the Loop, sometimes down streets cleared of traffic, sometimes blocking cars on streets the cops can’t get to first. People carrying briefcases, their paths to the trains blocked, eye the marchers with apprehension. “Get a job,” one man in a suit and overcoat snarls. “It’s a free country for those of us who want to catch a bus, too,” yells one exasperated woman on State Street.
The cops manage to steer the crowd to Michigan Avenue with the obvious goal of driving us into Grant Park. We cross the bridge over the South Shore line at Monroe Street. When the marchers reach the middle of the bridge, they use it as a vantage point to see how far back the parade goes. Each new group that reaches the high point of the bridge cheers wildly as marchers see their compatriots streaming down Michigan. The parade stretches for at least a half a mile.
Before we reach Columbus Drive, the horse cops form a line preventing us from going on to Lake Shore Drive. After five minutes of pushing and shoving with marchers at the front, the cops break their line and let us go. We take the drive down to Balbo. The wind slices in off the lake and the streetlights on Balbo are out, spurring marchers to step lively back to Michigan Avenue, where they turn north again. Marchers try to go west on Congress but horse cops have galloped ahead to block it off. After a brief shoving match there between the cops and the front lines, the crowd continues north on Michigan and turns west where the cops allow us to, on Van Buren.
A tall, young guy is walking fast, fumbling with his Walkman. I speed up to walk with him. “Don’t worry,” he says to me before I can ask. “I’ll let you know.” What?
He listens intently as he tunes in the radio. After a long moment, he jumps. “They did it!” he hollers. What? What? “They did it! Israel’s in now!” I grab him by the shoulders–Who did what? “They bombed Israel! Tel Aviv! Hussein fuckin’ did it! Aw, shit!”
“Israel isn’t going to sit still,” another guy says dejectedly.
A third guy adds, “There’s no way out now.”
An eerie feeling hangs in the air now on Van Buren as we turn north on Dearborn. The march slows at the federal building and many simply break off there and walk away without a word.
Monday, January 21
The temperature barely threatens to rise above the 20-degree mark this afternoon. Government offices are closed for Martin Luther King Day. Two small bands of people are dwarfed in the empty plaza. People in the larger of the two groups pump their fists and elicit honks from passing drivers. They wave flags and signs urging support for American soldiers. One of them offers a doughnut to a cop. She refuses and turns back to huddle for warmth with the rest of the cops–six at the most–here today.
“This is the best feeling I’ve had in a long time,” says Todd, a student at Elmwood Park High School. He wears an American flag pin on his jacket. The driver of a passing car shoots the finger at him and his pals, about 20 in all. “Fuck you, you pig,” he screams as he runs after the car a few steps. “Sorry,” he smiles, “I had to take care of that guy.”
His friend John, a student at Saint Patrick’s High School, is angry. “The press sucks,” he says. “They say we’re prowar but we’re not prowar. We don’t want any war. Nobody in the world wants war! We’re pro-American. Why don’t they say that?”
“Those protesters over there, they asked me why I’m not over there fightin’ if I’m so for the war. I told ’em I’d be the first one to join up if I could,” Todd says.
“When the soldiers come back home, we should have a parade,” John says.
“Yeah,” agrees George, a mechanic from Hammond, Indiana. “My cousin is in Saudi Arabia. He’s in the Marines. He says everybody’s morale gets low when they see the pictures of the protesters. The press, man, they only show one side of things.”
Another guy tells us he served in Vietnam. “We’re doin’ this now so we don’t have to do it in six years,” he says. The vet has been here since early this morning, and his breath turns to ice on his mustache. “I already did my time. Now it’s your turn,” he says to the kids. “I gotta go, but listen, war sucks. See you guys–be peaceful, OK?”
“He’s fuckin’ cool,” the kids say. “He’s all right.”
Protesters, 10 or 11 of them, sit in a tight group on cardboard skids. They’ve been camping out here since the big rallies began last week. Lance, a 27-year-old construction worker, says he has been here since Wednesday. The people who run a nearby restaurant let the protesters use their bathroom, Lance says. “We stayed here,” he says, “because we didn’t want to watch this war alone.”
Leigh works days–she’s a theater technical director–but she comes by when she can to lend support. She wears a yellow band around her arm in honor of a cousin who is in the Army in Saudi Arabia. “I was really angry when I first came down here Thursday,” she says, “but I got a lot out.”
There are loud voices coming from the direction of the flag-wavers. They march around the protesters, calling them “filthy pigs,” “fuckin’ commies,” and “Deadheads.” When things heat up, security guards and police come from the warmth of the lobby and their cars to stand between the two groups. Leigh turns her back to the scene. “This is what we do when they start that,” she says. Other protesters follow her lead. Except for one, who stands up to the flag-wavers. He stands alone as they surround him, and shouts to be heard over their voices.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Bill Stamets, Loren Santow, John Sundlof.