I left work at about 9 p.m. and began to walk north on Clark Street. I could immediately see that the street ahead was filled with emergency vehicles with their lights flashing. I decided to go through it rather than around it to see what was going on. As it turned out, there was an anti-war rally taking place in Daley Plaza. Typically (for me), I knew nothing about the event until I walked into it. Today’s paper estimated 4,000 attendees, though from what I could see, I think that estimate may have been rather low.
Coming up Clark put me on the wrong side of the plaza to be able to see the speech-makers or hear them very clearly, but I quickly caught the gist of it. So this post isn’t really about that that aspect of the rally; it’s about what I could see and hear.
The first thing that struck me was the riot squad. They were standing along Clark facing the plaza. There were hundreds of them, all decked out in riot gear with helmets, face shields, and wooden clubs. They stood 4 or 5 deep all along the edge of the plaza, almost all in the same pose of readiness to spring into action. It was an incongruous mix of input being presented to me – the crowd was enthusiastic, even passionate. The speakers were similarly passionate. But there was not the slightest sense in the air that mayhem was about to break out – at least, not on the part of the attendees. I’d like to think that the riot squad was there to protect the attendees from any pro-war activists determined to provoke trouble. Really, I’d like to think that.
As I continued my northward jaunt, I saw that there were large gatherings of regular Chicago cops on every corner near the plaza. Then came the buses. They were unmarked and empty except for their drivers. For a moment, I was puzzled; then I realized why they were there – they were on hand to transport masses of arrested people. These were prisoner transport vehicles. Lots of them. I began to wonder what police forces were left to protect the rest of the city that night and how thinly they were stretched.
I walked for several miles, all the way up to Fullerton, before I caught the bus home. By then, the rally had ended and the crowd had begun to disperse. As I made my way to the back of the bus, I passed a grandmotherly looking woman who was probably well into her 70s at the very least. She was on her way home too, and she carried at her side a sign reading, “Bring Our Troops Home.” I wondered how the riot squad would have dealt with her in the middle of a crowd. A couple rows behind her sat a 60-ish looking man wearing a button on his hat that read, “U.S. Out of Iraq.” If anyone wonders who is protesting the war, they should have been on that bus last night.
Now as for my own opinions about the war, let me just say this – I have a lot of conflicting feelings about it and I see no quick and easy solutions for either the hawks or the doves or for this country. You may note that I have never written about the war here before, and it’s because I prefer to write about things that I can state unambiguously. Alas, this conflict consists greatly of ambiguities coiled within and around other ambiguities. So I will say nothing more of my own opinions in the matter. I can only offer the above report of what I saw last night. Support the war or don’t, but know that this is what is going on.
By the way, today’s paper also reported that no arrests were made last night.
Postscript— There was one other faction near Daley Plaza I should mention. As I walked along Clark across from the plaza, two men carrying brooms and trash cans came along. As they were picking up trash, one of them spoke, to no one in particular: “It’s because of you-all that we’re here tonight. If you-all weren’t here, we would be home right now, but instead we gotta spend the night working.” He spoke in a fairly even tone with little apparent emotion, but unlike the speakers in the plaza, I could hear him perfectly, so he wins my prize for the most eloquent speech of the evening!