NATO protests the latest under Chicago’s ‘Big Top’

Today’s newspaper column from The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.)

NATO protests the latest under Chicago’s ‘Big Top’


May 19, 2012

Well, the circus is in town.

That’s both figuratively with the arrival of Chicago’s NATO summit and, well, literally thanks to a pack of protesting clowns.

Yes, clowns.

On Wednesday, WBBM Newsradio 780 reported that a radical group called Clown Bloq whose members dress in circus-style get-up is expected to take part in protests during this weekend’s summit.

Supposedly armed with 1,000 whipped cream pies potentially targeted for police officers, Clown Bloq says on its website that its main goal is “to provide hilarity in the face of a humorless police state and to provide a fool’s critique of organized and militarized repression of the people, their voices and their best interests.”

On a lighter note, upon hearing word of Clown Bloq via Facebook this week, one of my friends commented that, “Police anticipate minimal traffic congestion, as the protesters will be arriving in one car.”

In Chicago, clowns on parade would be just the latest chapter in the city’s colorful – and controversial – history of protests. The hope here, of course, is that nothing violent spins out from the NATO crowds this weekend. But the following are some of the most notorious moments in Chicago’s history that sparked its ugliest riots.

Haymarket Riot

On May 4, 1886, in Haymarket Square on Chicago’s Near West Side, a rally was held in support of workers striking for an eight-hour workday. The demonstration was peaceful until an unknown person tossed a dynamite bomb at police. The explosion and ensuing gunfire killed seven officers and at least four civilians.

Eight anarchists were later convicted of conspiracy, although prosecutors conceded that none of them had thrown the bomb. The Haymarket affair is generally considered the origin of the international May Day observances for workers.

Pullman Strike

Eight years after Haymarket, a Chicago protest sparked a nationwide movement. In 1894, employees of railroad car magnate George Pullman went on strike protesting severe wage cuts he had instituted in the midst of an economic depression.

Sympathy strikes soon spread to 23 other states, and when the protests were accompanied by violence, President Grover Cleveland made the decision to dispatch federal troops to quell the uprisings. During the course of the strike, 13 strikers were killed and another 57 wounded.

Six days after the strike ended, Cleveland and Congress quickly passed legislation that made Labor Day a federal holiday.

Chicago Race Riot of 1919

On July 27, 1919, ethnic tension caused by competition between new groups in Chicago came to a boil when a major racial conflict erupted in the city and lasted until Aug. 3.

During the Chicago riot, dozens died and hundreds of others were injured as it came to be considered the worst of approximately 25 riots across the nation during the “Red Summer of 1919,” named so because of the violence and fatalities.

1968 Democratic National Convention

In a year known across the nation for political protest, civil unrest and violence, Chicago became the poster child for such turbulence when the Democratic National Convention rolled into town in late August.

Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley had intended to showcase his city’s achievements to national politicians and the news media. But on Aug. 28 outside the Conrad Hilton Hotel on Michigan Avenue, chaos broke out instead.

Approximately 10,000 Vietnam War protesters gathered outside the convention, where they were met by 23,000 police and National Guardsmen. While network television cameras rolled, the groups clashed for 20 minutes. As some protesters were being led or dragged away, others chanted: “The whole world is watching. The whole world is watching.”

Hopefully, this weekend we don’t see clowns chanting the same.