I was what we call a cub reporter when I showed up at City Hall in June 1999 to interview people who were marching and shouting outside the mayor’s office. The crowd had a right to be mad. Earlier that month, a Chicago police officer shot and killed LaTanya Haggerty during a traffic stop. She was only 26 years old and was killed by an officer who mistook a cellphone for a handgun. The marchers demanded answers and accountability.
The first woman I approached had bright red hair and one of the biggest voices among the demonstrators, so I thought she’d be willing to talk. Instead, she kindly gave me her name and phone number to connect later, explaining that her lunch break had ended and she needed to get back to work. “This is how you spend your lunch break?” I remember asking, astounded.
From that moment I became captivated, almost entranced, with that special Chicago spirit of protest, that righteous rage and vocal demand for better lives for the people of this city.
Outsiders see our protests when the movements are disruptive — cutting off traffic on the Dan Ryan Expressway, blocking entry to downtown, or shutting down the upscale shops along the Magnificent Mile on Black Friday. But locals know there are far more demonstrations that don’t get attention.
Chicagoans march for justice.
Chicagoans march for equity and labor rights.
Chicagoans march for peace, demanding an end to the gun violence plaguing too many of our Black and brown communities.
Chicagoans march simply to be heard and for emotional catharsis.
In my first summer in Chicago, I attended protests where street performers challenged a proposed noise ordinance that would have put them out of business. I attended demonstrations for fair and affordable housing where residents shared stories of being close to eviction and of being unjustly kicked off housing subsidy waiting lists. I was at marches for bicyclists who wanted more dedicated street space.
Years later, I choked back tears as I watched a group of Black women chain themselves to a ladder to block the entrance to the Chicago Police Department’s Homan Square facility. And I laughed until my stomach hurt at the chanted slogans during the 2012 NATO protests.
I love our protests because they reveal an important truth about us: We are willing to show up and shout out.