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Chicago NATO protesters agree to consider alternate march route

Andy Thayer joins other activists outside City Chicago Central Hearing Facility Tuesday as they appeal city denial their requesed protest

Andy Thayer joins other activists outside the City of Chicago Central Hearing Facility Tuesday as they appeal a city denial of their requesed protest march on the opening day of the NATO Summit. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

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Updated: May 1, 2012 8:31AM

A day after losing their battle to march through the Loop on the opening day of May’s NATO Summit in Chicago, anti-war protesters said Friday they’re giving city officials an ultimatum: Give us an alternate route we like, or we’ll take you to court.

Andy Thayer, an organizer of the planned protest march, said at a Friday news conference that he and others will “grudgingly” start the march from Grant Park — rather than the more high-profile Daley Plaza where they wanted to begin and travel through the busy central Loop south to McCormick Place.

But Thayer said the city needs to cement a deal the two sides discussed that would allow protesters to march out of the park, west across Jackson and down stretches of State Street and Michigan Avenue to McCormick Place, where world leaders will be gathered for the summit.

While city officials denied a May 20 permit to protesters wishing to march from the Daley Center jogging south along State Street and Michigan Avenue, the city offered an alternative in writing calling for the march to start at Grant Park, down Columbus Drive and zigzagging over to State Street and toward McCormick Place.

City officials said the alternate route would be less taxing on a police department spread thin for the summit. An administrative law judge upheld the city’s decision this week, saying the protesters could take their anti-war message to the streets without blocking two arterial roads — Michigan Avenue and State Street — that motorcades would use to ferry foreign dignitaries from North Side and downtown hotels south to McCormick Place.

Thayer said protest organizers for the Coalition Against the NATO/G8 War & Poverty Agenda will agree to a third alternative that the city and protesters had talked over March 19 , after the original permit was denied, including:

■The use of the Petrillo band shell in Grant Park without a fee and without an insurance requirement.

■A route out of Grant Park that goes west across Jackson to State Street, south to Harrison and south on Michigan to McCormick Place.

“We will accept that — grudgingly — but we will accept it, Thayer said.

In addition, he wants the city to stand with protesters should the federal government step in and tell protestors they can’t get close to McCormick Place.

“We would require the city to make a public commitment to standing by us if the federal government issues an absurd blanket around the McCormick Place summit,” Thayer said. “We’re aware of the security concerns, and we are cognizant of them, but we will not accept a blanket around McCormick Place that doesn’t give reasonable voice to our sound and site objections to what the federal government may impose upon us.”

Thayer says Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration has until Wednesday to put this in writing or protesters will file a lawsuit in federal court, challenging the city’s actions on First Amendment grounds.

Thayer and other protest organizers met with Chicago Department of Transportation officials at City Hall in a closed-door meeting for just under an hour Friday about the march route.

“The City is committed to protecting First Amendment rights of protesters while protecting public safety and health,” Roderick Drew, a city law department spokesman said in an email, adding: “we look forward to working with them to finalize plans for their event.”

City officials will respond to the protesters’ request by the end of the day Wednesday.

Regardless of what happens, Thayer says, there will be a protest march on May 20 , the opening day of the two-day summit.

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