This spring, the North Atlantic Trade Organization (NATO) and the Group of Eight (G8) summits will be held in Chicago. For months, groups have planned visibile displays of mass dissent to challenge the impacts of their policies. After having helped the Obama White House entrench the Bush administration’s assault on civil liberties, new Mayor Rahm Emanuel took advantage of the hype by spearheading an effort to squelch dissent in advance, with the recent passage of what Occupy Chicago has called the “sit down and shut up” ordinances. The purpose of the legislation is to suppress protests by punishing organizers with excessive fines and bringing in private law enforcement officials, along with other anti-protest tactics. Additional provisions include empowering Emanuel to install video and audio surveillance equipment, without any expiration date on the authorization. Bernard Harcourt at The Guardian compares the quick passage of extreme legislation in Chicago to the principles laid out in The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein’s analysis of how political leaders implement unpopular policies under the cover of local crisis:
It was accomplished so quickly and seamlessly – passed practically overnight – that few seem to have noticed or had time to think through the long-term implications. There’s not a mention in the New York Times and only a small story in the Chicago Tribune. The crisis and fear of outside agitators, professional anarchists and rioters – splashed on the TV screens direct from London, Toronto, Genoa, Rome, or Seattle – is enough to create a permanent state of exception. To make matters worse, this cookbook implementation of mini shock treatment follows on the heels of a severe crackdown on the Occupy Chicago movement that resulted in the arrest of over 300 Occupy protesters in Grant Park in October 2011. The prosecutions are still ongoing today and the effect on political dissent has been chilling.
Chicago’s “sit down and shut up” ordinance raises grave civil liberties problems, which the Local Civil Rights Restoration campaign can help rectify—not just in Chicago, but in any city where concerned Americans are willing to reach out to their neighbors and mobilize support for constitutional rights at the local level.