Protesters plan Gaza-focused DNC march without Chicago permit

The organizers of many of Chicago’s biggest pro-Palestinian rallies are planning a march during this summer’s Democratic National Convention — and vowed Thursday not to apply for a city protest permit.

Leaders of the Chicago Coalition for Justice in Palestine held aloft their permit application and ripped it in half outside City Hall, hours after Chicago police cleared a Gaza protest encampment at DePaul University in a confrontation with students there.

Organizers said they had planned to seek approval to hold their march, but the DePaul clash convinced them it was pointless to try to cooperate with city officials.

“CPD messed it up today. So because of that, we are not filing (a permit),” said Nida Sahouri, chair of American Muslims for Palestine Chicago, as she tore the application at a news conference. “We are going to be protesting no matter what.”

The organizers say they will march from the West Loop’s Union Park on the convention’s second-to-last day, Aug. 21, at 4:30 p.m. and walk as close to the convention’s United Center headquarters as possible.

Like other protest groups planning DNC marches, they promise they will bring thousands of demonstrators and move forward with their plans with or without support from the police and city.

The activists blasted the Chicago Police Department for its participation in the early morning action at DePaul, where baton-wielding officers forced out demonstrators who had for weeks occupied a quad encampment in protest against Israel’s war effort in Gaza.

“It is evident that we are not on the same side here,” Students for Justice in Palestine Chicago leader Jenin Alharithi said. “It is a shame that we have gotten to this point, but I have no intention of collaborating with a city that is inherently racist, that bolsters a police state which in turn aids the genocide of my people in Gaza.”

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez joined the City Hall news conference and echoed activists’ criticism, calling the police action at DePaul a First Amendment violation and “a shameful attack on freedom of speech.” He warned that the city could open itself up to lawsuits if it keeps denying protest permits and cracking down on student protests.

“Our government can expect unrest when our government is not following due process and international law,” said Sigcho-Lopez, 25th, who faced a backlash in March for speaking in front of a burnt American flag at another news conference where protest groups called for the DNC to be canceled.

The organizers of the newly planned protest said their ultimate goals are to stop U.S. support of Israel’s war effort in Gaza and to allow for aid to enter the war-torn region. Since Hamas attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7 and killed around 1,200 people there, mostly civilians, seven months of war have killed over 35,000 in Gaza, most of whom are women and children, according to local health officials.

“The DNC is the one chance to convince the national political establishment that they must do everything in their power to protect Palestinian lives, to end apartheid, occupation and genocide in Palestine,” said Mollie Hartenstein, an organizer for Jewish Voice for Peace.

The city has so far rejected at least six DNC protest permit applications, though one group later won a permit after the city failed to respond to an appeal in time, an apparent mistake. The protests involve a mix of groups and interests, with focuses on abortion access, LGBTQ+ rights, fighting poverty and opposing the U.S.’s military support of Israel.

Authorities required to offer alternative protest routes have repeatedly proposed demonstrators instead march on a two-block, tree-lined stretch of Columbus Drive in Grant Park. Organizers across the board have criticized that location as too far from the convention’s hotspots, the United Center and McCormick Place, where delegates and top Democrats will congregate and the national media will focus its attention.

The permit denials are likely prompted by federal authorities, said Hatem Abudayyeh, chair of the U.S. Palestinian Community Network. But Mayor Brandon Johnson should nonetheless “make some moves and help” secure march routes close to the United Center, he added.

Johnson has several times marked his support for protest movements, citing his own participation in demonstrations as an organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union.

“I’m not here without that movement,” he said in March. “We just want to make sure that it is done in a safe and secure area so that that right to assemble doesn’t get taken over by individuals who may have other interests.”

But the patience of pro-Palestinian protesters appears to be growing thin as the mayor’s administration continues to deny permits and after the Police Department cleared a student encampment for the second time Thursday.

“We were very, very surprised that this happened this morning. That’s why we are disheartened, that’s why we decided not to apply, because we did not expect that CPD was going to do this,” Sahouri said. “We thought the city of Chicago (was) with us.”

The Chicago Coalition for Justice in Palestine also called for a rally Thursday evening on the DePaul campus in response to police clearing the encampment.

A lack of a DNC protest permit could make it more difficult for police to cooperate with organizers to conduct safety basics, like blocking streets and keeping ideologically-opposed groups separate.

But Abudayyeh — who previously promised to “make life miserable” for White House Democrats during the DNC while speaking about another protest he is involved in planning — said after months organizing marches on Chicago’s busiest streets, protesters will be safe with or without police support.

“We are essentially a well-oiled protest machine, and we’re not foreseeing any problems,” he said. “We don’t need them for protection.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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