CHICAGO — Hundreds of protesters broke away from a large rally and began marching through Chicago streets Friday, taunting police and shouting about everything from bank bailouts to nuclear power – a prelude to even bigger demonstrations expected after the start of a NATO summit. Police said there was one arrest for aggravated battery of a police officer. Officers were also seen trying to arrest a man who scaled a bridge tower and pulled down part of a NATO banner. Earlier, police handcuffed a man at the end of a noisy but largely peaceful rally organized by the nation’s largest nurses union.
Members of National Nurses United were joined by members of the Occupy movement, unions and veterans at the rally, where they demanded a “Robin Hood” tax on banks’ financial transactions. The event drew several thousand people and featured a performance by former Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, an activist who has played at many Occupy events. Deb Holmes, a nurse at a hospital in Worcester, Mass., said she was advocating for the tax but also protesting proposals to cut back nurses’ pensions. “We’ve worked 30 years for them and don’t want to get rid of them,” she said.
The rally _originally scheduled to coincide with the start of the G-8 economic summit before that meeting was moved from Chicago to Camp David – drew a broad spectrum of causes, from anti-war activists to Occupy protesters and Cathy Christeller’s nonprofit Chicago Women’s AIDS project. Christeller, the agency’s executive director, said there is common ground among all protesters, even against the backdrop of the NATO summit. “The whole … idea we should slash the (social) safety net instituted here and in Europe – it’s a disaster,” she said. “It ignores the source of the economic downturn, and it’s making people suffer unnecessarily. This brings us together.”
After the rally, a group planned to protest environmental damage by marching to BP, Exelon Energy and the Canadian consulate to deliver a “cease-and-desist” letter. But those plans were scrapped when a much larger group of protesters started marching and chanting spontaneously, said Craig Rouskey, an activist with Occupy San Francisco and Rising Tide, an environmental group. He said he abandoned the march because it “got hijacked” by protesters who lacked a clear message “It became less about environmentalism and more about taking the streets,” he said. “That is important, but I just like a more succinct message.”
Police on foot, bicycle and horseback followed the marchers, who tried to evade police as they wound through city streets, at one point even weaving between stopped cars. The march began to break up after about 90 minutes. Jennifer Lacey, a freelance videographer and editor from Chicago who took pictures of the spectacle with her cell phone, gave police high marks for their tolerance. “I think the police are handling themselves very well,” she said. “It seems like they have it all organized, and it doesn’t seem their tempers are going to be easily flared. I think they’re mindful we’re going to be on the world stage.”
But Ben Meyer, a Chicago lawyer who was observing the protest for the National Lawyers’ Guild, denounced what he called an excessive police presence at the rally, which included dozens of officers milling through the crowd and lining the perimeter, some of whom were videotaping the rally. “It’s frustrating the state needs to come out and show this much force for a nurses’ rally,” he said. “They have everyone from the superintendent on down here. It’s just ridiculous.” Meanwhile, lawyers for NATO summit protesters said police on Friday released four of nine activists arrested Wednesday on accusations that they had or planned to make Molotov cocktails.
The lawyers said police, with their guns drawn, raided a South Side apartment building where activists were staying. The Chicago Police Department refused to comment. One of those protesters, Occupy activist Darrin Annussek of Philadelphia, denied there were Molotov cocktails in the apartment or that raw materials had been compiled to make them. “No way,” said Annussek, who was released without being charged. “If I had seen anything that even resembled (a Molotov cocktail), I would have left.”
He claims that during 18 hours in custody, police never told him why he was arrested, read him his rights or allowed him to make a phone call. He said he remained handcuffed to a bench, even after asking to use a restroom. “There were guards walking by making statements into the door along the lines of `hippie,’ `communist,’ `pinko,'” a tired-looking Annussek told reporters just after his release. “It is all part of a fear and intimidation campaign … with the intent of keeping these people off the streets,” said Sarah Gelsomino of the Chicago chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.
Security has been high throughout the city in preparation for the summit, where delegations from about 60 countries, including 50 heads of state, will discuss the war in Afghanistan and European missile defense. Protesters and police were gearing up for Sunday, when even more demonstrations are expected. Estimates of how many might show up have varied widely, from a couple thousand to more than 10,000.