As the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Chicago nears, the Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and activists are urging the United States Secret Service make public their security plan for McCormick Place, where the summit is to be held, by Monday, April 23. The ACLU maintains specific details on the security perimeter must be released so that the community can decide if the Secret Service will be violating the First Amendment rights of people, who intend to demonstrate at the summit.
The ACLU of Illinois sent a letter. It explains that, as of 2003, a “federal court settlement agreement” that resulted from an ACLU case, Albrecht v. Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, “mandates that at least one person be permitted at every entrance to McCormick Place in order to distribute leaflets and creates outdoor group expressive areas near McCormick Place where all forms of expressive activity is permitted.” But, “conversations with the Secret Service” have led the ACLU chapter to conclude the entrances and outdoor areas that are protected under the settlement will be blocked off. Only persons “credentialed” to attend the summit will be able to be in these areas.
Legal director of the ACLU of Illinois Harvey Grossman believes it is important to know if the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which operates McCormick Place, and the Secret Service plan to ignore the settlement. If they do, the ACLU of Illinois may have to go to court to protect the First Amendment rights of Chicagoans and others coming to protest the NATO summit.
Additionally, the ACLU chapter’s letter asks for information on how the Secret Service might limit free speech and assembly outside the security perimeter during the summit. Currently, a group called the Coalition Against NATO/G8’s War and Poverty Agenda (CANG8) has a permit for a march to McCormick Place on May 21 and a rally at the intersection of 23rd and Indiana near the summit. The Secret Service is believed to have an issue with allowing this to be the endpoint of the march and do not want any large groups to gather here. If this is the case, the ACLU contends the Secret Service must outline where groups could go to assemble.
An organizer with CANG8, Andy Thayer, indicated in a press release that activists would support legal action in court if necessary. They believe, politically speaking, the fact that this is an election year makes it especially troublesome for the Obama administration to have thousands of people out in the streets challenging the administration’s pro-war policies.
The Secret Service has “purposely dragged their heels on announcing the security perimeter,” says Thayer. Nonetheless, members of the Chicago community have done their best to proactively prepare events and plan ahead so that there will be public demonstrations when dignitaries meet at the NATO summit.
It is worth noting that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel passed protest restrictions in January that, in addition to whatever measures put in place by the Secret Service, will also be inhibiting First Amendment rights.