On the five-year anniversary of the United States' war on Iraq—Wed., March 19—anti-war protestors marched through downtown Chicago, echoing nationwide protests. Departing from tradition, a broad coalition of Chicago's anti-war groups decided to continue the spirit of protest with a day of 'creative actions' and civil disobedience on the following day, March 20. According to a spokesperson, Mitchell Szczepanczyk, groups and individuals were encouraged to speak out against the war outside the format of speeches and rallies. By his account, events began at 7 a.m with a group dropping a banner commemorating Malachi Richter, who self-immolated in protest of the war in 2006, at the Millenium Flame near the Kennedy Expressway.
John Volkening ( pictured, center ) . Photos by Yasmin Nair
Reports of various actions throughout the area filtered in constantly, including one about a march at University of Illinois at Chicago, against a laboratory that does research on Raytheon Missile Defense Systems.
During lunchtime, Voices for Creative Non-Violence ( VCNV ) set up a penny poll. Passersby were offered ten pennies each and asked to decide how they would symbolically fund education, health care, the military, environmental issues, and housing. Food Not Bombs, a group that advocates dumpster diving against homelessness and hunger, offered free lunches. Wary and jaded down-towners appeared perplexed at the free food, but were more enthusiastic about the poll. Vera Banks, a participant, thought it was ' … wonderful! It lets them know exactly how we feel about it.' Afterwards, a group of seven people including VCNV executive director, Kathy Kelly, was arrested inside the Federal Building.
At 5 p.m., approximately 100 people converged at Federal Plaza and continued acts of street theater, mixing the somber with the irreverent. Some participated in a snake march with an empty casket to symbolize the dead. Eric, a self-declared 'fag-mo,' laid out a sheet with eggs and pastel paints, inviting people to color eggs for peace, while others drummed in circles. The threat of an invasion of Iran was evident on much of the signage. The largest was a black banner with the words 'Don't Iraq Iran.'
Participants recounted the day's events, some of which had led to arrests. John Volkening, a member of VCNV and Christian Peacemaker Teams, described an action outside Congressman Rahm Emanuel's office earlier in the day: 'He [ Emanuel ] continues to keep us chained to this unjust and immoral war and the destruction of Iraq and the destruction of the Iraqi people. So we went over and we chained ourselves to his office on Irving Park Road and we said, 'You have chained us to this unjust and immoral war. Unchain us.' Volkening and his partner Gerald Paoli were among those arrested and later released.
The events of March 20 marked the first such day of 'creative actions.' Speaking about the need for more of these, Donte Smith, a member of Gay Liberation Network and Bash Back! said, 'Stopping the occupation of Iraq is bigger than just stopping the occupation, much bigger. There're so many other things involved. So everyone finds their own ways [ to resist ] .'