5000 seize Lake Shore Drive in Chicago in support of Palestine
Chicago, IL – As the bombardment of Gaza entered its seventh week, 5000 protesters seized Chicago's DuSable Lake Shore Drive, November 18, demanding an immediate end to the Israeli genocide. The latest in a series of protests held across the city and beyond, this act of mass civil disobedience marked the first such shutdown of this important and iconic thoroughfare since the outset of the Iraq War two decades before.
Organized by the Chicago Coalition for Justice in Palestine (CJP), the action was preceded by a rally at nearby Buckingham Fountain, uniting a diverse audience around demands to stop the U.S.-funded genocide, end the siege on Gaza now, and end U.S. aid to the Israeli apartheid state. Speakers at the rally represented an array of Palestinian community groups under the CJP umbrella, as well as allied organizations including the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (CAARPR) and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).
Kobi Guillory, co-chair of CAARPR, emphasized the links between the Palestinian liberation movement and freedom movements of the past, stating “Just as we did with the resistance against colonialism and apartheid, we stand with the Palestinian resistance now. Police around the country are trained by Israeli forces. Our repression is connected.” Guillory concluded: “Our solidarity is a strategic weapon against a common enemy.”
Representatives of SDS and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) spoke of their struggles to organize and educate their classmates in the face of growing repression, both from government officials and school administrators. Despite these challenges, the student leaders remained determined to fight on. “We are on the right side of history,” declared Erin Boyle with the SDS chapter at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “Young people are acting with courage and compassion. These students are not organizing around hate. They are building a movement and changing public opinion.”
Underscoring the human toll of the siege on Gaza, speaker Fidaa Alaydee recounted to the audience her own family's struggles to survive the onslaught, from having to search for food, water and fuel, to digging neighbors out from the rubble.
One, two! What’re we gonna do? Three, four! Take Lake Shore!
As the rally concluded, suddenly there was a flurry of activity a few hundred yards away. Scores of activists had run across Lake Shore Drive, half of them facing south and half facing north. They succeeded in stopping the traffic in both directions.
Organizers quickly called on the audience to march onto the Drive and shut down traffic through the central expressway. The crowd burst into a run heading down the slope toward a line of waiting cops. The Chicago Police Department made a last-ditch effort to hold back the crowd with a line of officers and barricades, but they could not stop the determined protesters.
The cops at first succeeded in stopping the main body of the protest, but hundreds more in the crowd moved to the north and the south to get around the cordon. Spontaneously, the crowd started chanting, “Move, cops, get out the way!”
Having marched repeatedly over the past month, this community, ranging in age from kids in strollers to men and women in their 70s, climbed over steel bike racks, pushed through thorny shrubbery, and scaled other obstacles to break through. It was the desire to strike back at the war makers, and their U.S. backers, that propelled the success of this tactic. In the face of the determination of the mainly Palestinian crowd, the police relented and ceased attempts to stop the protesters.
This would be the first time such an action took place since a momentous March 2003 protest at the start of the Iraq War, when 10,000 protesters seized the Drive. Then, Chicago PD responded by arresting 900 of them. This time, after a decade of protests for police accountability, no squadrols were pulled in, and no arrests were made.
“Who is the revolution? We are the revolution!”
Once on the roadway, the enthusiastic crowd broke into chants. Individual protesters scaled traffic poles to wave their Palestinian flags high above applauding onlookers, and an 80-foot banner of the Palestinian flag was unfurled in the crowd below, with hundreds helping to hold it.
In a particularly powerful expression of solidarity, nearly all the protesters then staged a sit-in along the street. Popular chants made clear connections to other struggles, including “From Palestine to the Philippines, stop the U.S. war machine!” and “From Palestine to Mexico, border walls have to go!” Traffic remained blocked for hours, spilling over into other arteries and bringing traffic to a standstill throughout the downtown Loop, and along the expressways as countless drivers sought an alternate route away from the lake.
The shutdown of Lake Shore Drive is only the latest in a series of confrontations with authorities in centers of economic and political power, as the Palestinians and allies seek to increase the social costs of the ongoing U.S.-backed slaughter in Gaza. While ultimately only the Palestinian people can achieve their liberation, it is imperative that the people of the West unite to exert maximum pressure on their rulers, and by maintaining a visible resistance, to show the world that millions here in the U.S. are standing with Palestine.