Weather Updates

Rahm Emanuel defends decision to yank nurses’ NATO protest permit

Updated: June 11, 2012 10:17AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday defended the city’s decision to yank the permit for the first protest march of the NATO summit — then acknowledged that expressway, road and museum closures tied to the summit will be more than minor inconveniences.

The latest NATO protest uproar stems from the city’s surprise decision to revoke a permit issued to National Nurses United to hold a rally in the Daley Center Plaza on Friday, May 18.

City Hall wants to move the rally to Grant Park because heavy promotion by the nurses and a concert by former Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello are likely to draw a crowd much larger than the group’s original estimate of 1,000.

On Wednesday, Emanuel defended that decision, the latest in a series of First Amendment controversies in the run-up to the May 20-21 NATO summit.

“I believe firmly in people’s First Amendment rights. They’ll be able to exercise that. This has nothing to do with that,” the mayor said.

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

The nurses scoffed at the mayor’s explanation and vowed to appeal the city’s decision in federal court, with an assist from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

At a news conference outside City Hall, the nurses argued that there is precedent for giant rallies that spill over onto Chicago streets.

They pointed to the massive civic celebration that followed the Black Hawks 2010 Stanley Cup Championship and former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s 2009 decision to close Michigan Avenue for two days to make way for Oprah Winfrey’s 24th season premiere, featuring a live performance by the Black Eyed Peas.

“We are in conference with ACLU Illinois and they agree that we have an absolute right to assemble in Daley Plaza, which is traditionally a quintessential public forum in Chicago and sacred First Amendment ground,” said Jan Rodolfo, Midwest director of National Nurses United.

“Daley Plaza is at the throbbing heart of Chicago, a great city that can handle large protests, as has been demonstrated over and over again. Two thousand nurses and one musician holding an acoustic guitar — we think the Daley Plaza can accommodate that. It’s an embarrassment to the city of Chicago as a whole to claim otherwise.”

Rodolfo said the Morello concert is “not news” to top mayoral aides and it’s “disingenuous” for the city to claim otherwise.

“This is really about wanting to move nurses outside of the public eye so that our message attacking Wall Street and actually countering the position of the G-8 — they want that silenced and we’re not willing to be silenced,” she said.

Last week, the U.S. Secret Service disclosed plans to close three major expressways, two museums and countless roads to protect President Barack Obama and other world leaders meeting at McCormick Place. Some of the road closures will last for an entire week.

It was more than the “minor inconvenience” Emanuel has been describing for months. And on Wednesday, the mayor acknowledged as much.

“There are inconveniences. I’m not diminishing them. But, it is a 2.5-day conference. The rest of the city will continue to operate. Those near McCormick Place — it’s an inconvenience. I said then and I’ll say again, I don’t minimize it,” he said.

“We’re able to handle it. The community is able to handle it. Our Police Department is able to handle it. And it will be for 2.5 days and our city will continue to go forward.”

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.