Friday, November 08, 2002

Protesters Protesters Everywhere

As you may have heard, the Trans-Atlantic Business Dialog is going on in Chicago right now, and there are a lot of protesters here.

After work on Thursdays I go to work downtown on a research project for which I get internship credit for school. Afterward I walk to Tim's work. It's about a couple of miles, I think. Anyway, it's exercise.

So I'm walking down Michigan Avenue to get to Tim's work, and all is normal. Then after a couple of blocks, I notice some cops standing around. Then, a block or so later, I notice there aren't many pedestrians around anymore. Shortly thereafter, I see that there are no cars passing me on the street, and Michigan Avenue is always jammed that time of day. That normally busy part of the city seemed almost deserted. I walked down the block a bit more, and there were police standing shoulder to shoulder in front of a building that is basically a shopping center. It looked like they weren't letting anyone in or out. Couldn't figure that one out. Then I see police lining the street in some sections. There are helicopters in the air, just hovering overhead. By this time there are almost no pedestrians around me, and I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. So I called my mom and asked what was going on. She was watching the news and said the protesters were marching down the street, and that time were probably about a half mile from where I was. As I kept walking the police presence was getting stronger, and they were wearing riot gear. It was the first time I ever saw Chicago police wearing riot gear, and it was a bit freaky. They have these new riot gear uniforms, all black. Looks like something you would see in a movie.

I get to the Chicago river, and when I got there I could see the protesters coming. They were marching, almost parade-style, in the middle of the street. Had I known that's how the protest was going to be, I wouldn't have walked down Michigan Avenue. They were peaceful, just shouting and holding signs. Their destination (which I didn't know at the time) was a plaza on Michigan Avenue just north of the river, which was basically just across the street from where I was when I saw them.

I crossed the river to continue going south to Tim's work, but I couldn't cross. The police weren't letting people cross the street there. I was stuck. One one woman tried to cross the street, a riot gear-clad cop just stopped her by putting his shield up. There were police standing across the street sholder to shoulder holding clubs, all standing in the same position. It was scary looking.

The protesters who were marching were escorted on either side by police in riot gear (they made a lot of noise when they walked with all the protective gear they were wearing) and mounted police.

I tried turning around and going back over the river, so that maybe I could go over a few blocks and continue south on a street without protesters. But before I could get to the next intersection there were more police in riot gear blocking the sidewalk. Luckily, since Michigan Avenue is a raised street, there was a stairway to ground level and other streets that I could take that I had forgotten about. Otherwise I would have been trapped, not able to go north or south.

It's good the Chicago police were prepared. I'm sure they were there both for the protection of the protesters themselves, as well as to prevent them from getting out of hand. But my city looked like it was under martial law, and that was scary. When I was walking down the street, when there was hardly anyone there but police, I almost felt like a criminal just for being there.

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