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Nurses, Veterans Furious With City’s Changes To NATO Protests

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Members of National Nurses United protest at City Hall, after city officials decided to move their protest rally on the weekend of the NATO summit from Daley Plaza to Grant Park. (Credit: CBS)

Members of National Nurses United protest at City Hall, after city officials decided to move their protest rally on the weekend of the NATO summit from Daley Plaza to Grant Park. (Credit: CBS)

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Updated 05/09/12 – 5:19 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) – Is the city of Chicago double-crossing demonstrators planning protests during the weekend of the NATO summit? That’s what protest organizers are charging, claiming the city is going back on its word on where and how two big marches will conclude.

CBS 2’s Derrick Blakley reports veterans planning an anti-NATO protest thought they could rally near McCormick Place, but have been told they can’t. Nurses planning their own protest rally that weekend wanted to go to Daley Plaza, but have now been told to go to Grant Park.

Both groups claim the city is unfairly changing the rules very late in the game.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports

A group of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans were planning a protest against NATO on Sunday, May 20, at the corner of Cermak Road and Michigan Avenue. Veterans like Iraq war veteran Aaron Hughes said they planned to give back their war medals in protest against NATO.

Hughes said the city assured them they’d be able to set up a stage and sound system at Cermak and Michigan for their rally, which is part of a major protest rally organized by several activist groups, including the Occupy movement. But Hughes said they were recently told they can’t have a stage or sound system at Cermak and Michigan.

“They’re going back on what they’ve told us,” he said.

It’s a similar charge to the one levied by protesting nurses on Wednesday. Their original permit for a protest on Friday, May 18, called for a rally at Daley Plaza, but the city modified that permit to place the rally at Grant Park instead.

The nurses were furious with the change. They never intended their protest to be a walk in the park. So National Nurses United has threatened to file a lawsuit challenging the city’s changes to their protest route.

“When people want to march along, look at us, and say, ‘Yes, that’s right,’ it’s the start of a movement, and we don’t want to be shunted off to the side in some far-away place,” said Jean Ross, with National Nurses United.

However, Butler Field at Grant Park, where the city has moved the nurses’ rally, is less than a mile from Daley Plaza.

As WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports, National Nurses United organizer Jan Rodolfo said the Emanuel administration is trying to marginalize their rally, planned for May 18.

The nurses’ protest rally is scheduled to include musician Tom Morello, guitarist for the band Rage Against The Machine.

City officials said that is part of the reason they decided to change the nurses’ protest route to place the rally in Grant Park, rather than Daley Plaza. The city also expects far more than the 1,000 protesters that organizers originally estimated would take part in the rally.

The city has said that Morello’s performance during the rally is likely to draw a much larger crowd than Daley Plaza can hold. The plaza has a capacity of about 5,000, but the nurses said they’re not expecting that many people.

“Two thousand nurses and one musician holding an acoustic guitar; we think that Daley Plaza can accommodate that,” Rodolfo said. “And we think it’s an embarrassment to the city of Chicago, as a whole, to claim otherwise.”

But Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Wednesday the move was made because the nature of the rally has changed since the nurses first submitted their request for a permit.

“If you go back to their actual position, they talked about 1,000 people, and nothing about kind of a rock concert,” Emanuel said. “And if you want to change the type of event you’re going to have, it’s more appropriate to have it in Grant Park, rather than on Daley Plaza during the work day.”

But all the protesters see is a disturbing pattern.

Andy Thayer, who is an organizer of a large-scale protest rally on Sunday, May 20, which will include the war veterans’ rally, said, “What the city is trying to do right now, is they’re trying to marginalize pro-worker and pro-peace messages.”

The nurses have said Grant Park is not an acceptable alternative to Daley Plaza for their rally on May 18, because it is not nearly as visible to people who work and visit downtown.

The nurses said they will rally somewhere regardless. They said they plan to file a lawsuit challenging the city’s decision to change the location of their protest rally.

It would be the first scheduled protest rally the weekend of the summit, and the only one scheduled for a work day.

Originally, the city had approved a march route that would go from the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Tower to Daley Plaza, and organizers had said they were expecting about 1,000 protesters. The protesters planned to gather at the hotel — where President Barack Obama will be staying during the NATO summit — at 10 a.m., followed by an 11 a.m. protest march to Daley Plaza. Now they must go to Grant Park instead.

The original route would have taken protesters from the hotel at Columbus Drive and North Water Street, north to Illinois Street, west to Michigan Avenue, south to Wacker Drive, west to State Street, south to Randolph Street, then west to Dearborn Street and into Daley Plaza.

The new route will instead take the protesters south on Michigan Avenue, all the way to Monroe Drive, and east into Grant Park, at Butler Field. The date and time of the march will not be changed. The protest must wrap up by 1 p.m.

The group will be allowed to use the Petrillo Music Shell in Grant Park for Morello’s musical performance.

Morello also blasted the decision to move the rally to Grant Park, in a phone interview with CBS 2.

“My first reaction was one of surprise, because let’s get this straight – NATO, the defender of the free world, is afraid of a musician and a few nurses?” Morello said. “I mean, Daley Plaza was big enough for Batman, it was big enough for the Blues Brothers, but it’s not big enough for me?”

Morello, who was raised in the Chicago area, said he agreed to perform at the nurses’ rally “to support them and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their quest for a more just and equitable world, and to help amplify their voice.”

He also said if Emanuel is so afraid of Morello’s popularity, maybe he should run against Emanuel in the next mayoral election.

The nurses said they’re consulting with the American Civil Liberties Union about a federal lawsuit to fight the changes to their rally plans. Meantime, Thayer said his protest coalition will hold emergency meetings this weekend to decide how to respond to the lack of a stage or sound system for the big Sunday protest rally near McCormick Place.

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