Anti-war protesters swiftly answered the onset of war with a national campaign of civil disobedience, including a seemingly spontaneous march by an estimated 10,000 people that shut down Lake Shore Drive Thursday night, leading to arrests by the busload.
Police this morning arrested a number of protesters who tried to block traffic around Federal Plaza at Adams and Dearborn Streets in the Loop. No injuries were reported. Protesters earlier had marched from the historic Water Tower to the plaza, where several hundred demonstrators gathered. Meanwhile, more than 550 people arrested during Thursday night's protest were to be arraigned in misdemeanor court later this morning. They remained in custody — the men at a South Side area police headquarters, and the women at a West Side police headquarters.
Thousands were arrested nationwide. In San Francisco, roving bands closed several exits on the Bay Bridge to Oakland. In Washington, demonstrators shut down the Key Bridge. In New York, protesters shut down a two block stretch of Broadway.
By the end of the night, Chicago police were filling buses with hundreds of protesters, their hands bound with plastic restraints. Police said those arrested would likely spend the night in jail and would not be released before the Friday morning rush hour — when protesters had vowed to block more intersections and building entrances in acts of civil disobedience.
In the first day after the U.S. military struck Iraq, anti-war activists hoped the spectacle of a gridlocked Lake Shore Drive and arrests in other cities would embarrass President Bush and re-energize their efforts.
"I'm sure people in their cars were getting annoyed, but we haven't had a war like this here in a long time," said protester Scott Gilbert, 32, of Evanston. "We're trying to reach people. And as this gets covered, we're saying to them, Join us."
From Grandmothers for Peace to 6th graders who led a walkout at Inter-American Magnet School, protesters sought to win converts or pressure the government toward a swift end to the war.
As they took the stage in Federal Plaza, none of the anti-war leaders made any mention of taking to the streets. The energy of the rally took over as protesters pounded drums and chanted slogans against Bush.
In a scene that harked back to the 1960s, two young women passed out flowers to men in suits and punk haircuts alike. Religious leaders prayed for an end to the war while other protesters displayed photos of Iraqi children.
The crowd was mostly young people, many of them students. But there were a good number of middle aged and elderly people dressed in suits and ties and dresses mixed in.
After the packed rally ended, a crowd police initially had estimated at 5,000 slowly moved east, pushing the police line block after block. The crowd reached Lake Shore Drive, then slowly snaked north.
The crowd grew as it absorbed more protesters, and eventually reached 10,000, according to Chief of Patrol Jim Maurer.
Police officials said later that the only way to control a crowd of that size was to move with it and try to contain it, but not to try to stop it.
Police attempted to keep the march in the northbound lanes of the drive, but once the crowd passed Navy Pier, it overtook the southbound lanes as well, with people weaving in and out of stopped traffic.
Because the crowd became so unruly, police decided to take a firm stand at Michigan and Oak Streets, demanding that the protesters retreat back to Lake Shore Drive. The crowd did turn back at first, but then made another attempt at marching up Michigan Avenue at Chicago Avenue.
It was there that some exchanges between police and protesters became violent, with protesters shoving and police swinging batons. No serious injuries were reported late Thursday.
After the protesters sat down on Chicago Avenue just east of Michigan Avenue, buses rolled up, and police began walking, dragging and carrying protesters from the group and arresting them.
Police said most of the several hundred that were arrested would likely face misdemeanor charges of mob action or reckless conduct.
Police took a flag away from an activist who had been hanging it upside down on a pole. To the applause of other officers, they turned the flag right-side up and used plastic restraints to attach the flag to a No Parking sign pole.
In another instance, police arresting a man pulled him around a mud puddle. Some officers told them to stop and drag him through. So they took the protester back and dragged him through the puddle.
"We've been incredibly accommodating to this point," said police spokesman Pat Camden. "We gave them a chance to disperse, so we are reacting accordingly. Enough is enough."
Late Thursday, police were in a standoff with dozens of protesters who were surrounded and had been given a last chance to leave or face arrest. All remained, and more buses were ordered.
Police took a flag away from an activist who had been hanging it upside down on a pole. To the applause of other officers, they turned the flag right-side up and used plastic restraints to attach the flag to a "No Parking" sign pole.
While anti-war groups had planned this week's actions to the minute and updated strategies on the Internet and by phone, most protesters said they were surprised that the Loop rally ended up on Lake Shore Drive.
"It's pretty amazing," said Paul Donahue, a 41-year-old fundraiser from Chicago. "It's all spontaneous. At first, I thought it was aimless. When we got to Lake Shore Drive, I thought, Wow, that's pretty impressive."
In other cities, authorities also struggled to keep order as opponents of war took to the streets by the thousands.
In San Francisco, firefighters had to use saws to separate protesters who linked themselves with metal chains. Protesters disrupted freeway exits, commuter trains and business at the Federal Building.
"We went from what I would call legal protests to absolute anarchy," said Assistant Police Chief Alex Fagan Sr.
Other protests were quieter.
In West Hollywood, celebrities picking up their Oscar gowns and jewelry at the Sunset Marquis Hotel were greeted by the anti-war group Artists United to Win Without War, which handed out pins featuring a peace symbol.
Likewise, students at several Chicago high schools and colleges made their point calmly and simply by walking out of class.
As parents looked on proudly, students as young as 11 marched on the playground of the Inter-American School, 919 W. Barry Ave. What the 50 youngsters lacked in size, they made up in passion.
"We really believe in this. We're not just coming out here to skip school," said Stefania Freire, 11. "We really want to make a difference."
A passerby accused parents of brainwashing the children. But the adults asserted that pupils had organized the protest.
With every blast of a horn, one of the pupil organizers carefully marked a slash mark on the back of his sign. In the end, Joaquin Negrete-Rousseau said proudly, there had been 162 "honks for peace."
Despite their high-profile rally, activists expressed worries that the start of war could take the wind out of their sails. Several protesters worried about a backlash if they are perceived as undermining U.S. troops.
Jerrin Zumberg, 21, a University of Chicago student, said she views her activism as even more essential now that the conflict is under way.
"Because it's started, I know some feel a sense of hopelessness," said Zumberg, a member of the Chicago Student Moratorium Against War on Iraq. "But I think now our work is that much more important. Now we know that people are going to be dying every day and we need to stop that."
Tribune staff reporters Oscar Avila, Lisa Black, Ana Beatriz Cholo, Liam Ford, Bryan A. Keogh and Mike Menichini contributed to this report.www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-0303210231mar21,1,2486416.storyE-mail this article