Week of Chicago activism for Palestine culminates in demonstrators shutting down Lake Shore Drive – Mondoweiss
Since October 7, Chicago has witnessed a wave of protests, rallies, and demonstrations in solidarity with the Palestinian people. Illinois holds the highest percentage of Palestinian population of any state in the United States, with cities like Chicago, Orland Park, and Bridgeview serving as dynamic epicenters for the community. Bridgeview, in particular, has earned the enduring nickname of “Little Palestine,” a testament to the roots established by Arab American families in the city.
This past week, protests continued as activists, students, and everyday citizens mobilized to apply continuous pressure on local officials. Activities culminated on Saturday when thousands of activists undertook a large-scale and unexpected takeover of Dusable Lake Shore Drive, which shut down the large expressway that runs alongside the shoreline of Lake Michigan. Here are just a few snapshots from the past week of activism in Chicago.
Activists shut down Lake Shore Drive
On November 18, what was originally planned as a Palestinian solidarity demonstration at Buckingham Fountain, in the center of Chicago’s Grant Park, turned into a massive, large-scale takeover of Lake Shore Drive, a main artery for the city of Chicago.
At 1:00 p.m., thousands began to gather at the iconic Chicago landmark, wearing keffiyehs and carrying various banners. Leaders and speakers from various organizations engaged the crowd in speeches for approximately an hour, preparing them for the planned die-in demonstration, which commenced at 2:49 p.m.
At exactly 2:53, voices erupted from the crowd yelling, “We’re taking over Lake Shore Drive! Go now! Go now!”
Demonstrators that were lying down started gathering up and rushing towards the Drive, which is a highway that connects the city along Lake Michigan. The drive was barricaded, and Chicago police hurried to set up additional gates. A number of demonstrators yelled to start jumping over gates, and several others followed. A unified line formed across the intersection of the Drive while holding long banners extending 25 feet each.
As hundreds amassed behind the gates, facing increased restrictions due to additional barriers, many began pushing against them. Those standing on the drive began to chant, “Let them in! Let them in!”
Chicago law enforcement attempted to apprehend several demonstrators as they attempted to overcome the gates, but dozens successfully broke through the gates. Soon, hundreds were pouring into the Dusable Lake Shore Drive.
Number of the demonstrators were reported to have been punched and physically grabbed by law enforcement while attempting to get through the barricades. One elderly man fell to the ground as he resisted officers by the barricade.
Cheers erupted from the crowd as hundreds streamed through the fountain plaza and gathered behind the banners.
US Palestinian Community Network (USPCN) leaders approximated a headcount of 5,000 people. An organization leader of USPCN told Mondoweiss, “The Chicago Coalition for Justice in Palestine organized today’s rally, though the people of Chicago and the people in the rally took to the streets. Took Lake Shore Drive. And we shut down Lake Shore Drive as a message in solidarity with our people.”
“Today was a great action. It caught the police by surprise, and we were able to shut down Lake Shore. Making a clear statement to the city of Chicago and everyone that we’re not considering business as usual anymore.” Nick, another activist from USPCN, told Mondoweiss. “We’re not gonna allow them to continue to go to their festivals that they had down the street and enjoy it. We’re not gonna allow people to go have their day-to-day business without taking Palestine into consideration.”
“When people say things don’t happen in 10 years but things can happen in 10 days, that type of situation is proven to be true. This is the time where are alot of change is going to happen” Nick emphasized.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth continues to refuse to meet with constituents
On the afternoon of November 16, Youth organizers from various Chicago universities attempted to surround and enter the Jacob K. Javitz Federal Building as part of their ongoing attempt to meet with Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth. Duckworth has refused to meet with students on several occasions when visiting Chicago universities in recent weeks.
Security barred students from accessing the upper floors of the building and only allowed two representatives from the group to deliver a handwritten letter. They would only allow the letter to be slid under Senator Tammy Duckworth’s door without any opportunity for dialogue. These prescribed terms underscored for her constituents the stark reality that elected officials are unwilling to engage in direct conversation with the very people they claim to represent.
“They‘re treating us like we’re a threat; we’re just here to talk to her,” said one youth member attempting to meet with their representative.
As chants began to ensue, Homeland Security rushed over and attempted to warn them against proceeding any further. The organizers asked what the consequences would be, and the security officer stated, “A consequence may be ending up in jail.”
This didn’t prevent demonstrators from continuing their action. Another organizer began chanting even louder, “Tammy Tammy, you’re a liar! We demand a ceasefire!”
After 30 minutes of chanting indoors, the group of demonstrators began walking out of the building. The group joined those who waited outside the building and started laying down with those part of the die-in rally coordinated separately by Health Care Workers for Palestine, which began at 3:00 p.m.
One organizer yelled, “They won’t even let us into the — building, and we are begging for them to stop killing our family members and our friends. It is unacceptable, it is unbelievable!” She continued, “The CPD does not care at all about Chicagoans. They do not care about us.”
In recent weeks, constituents from Chicagoland universities have been prevented time and time again from speaking with Duckworth. On November 11, students at Loyola University were shoved and grabbed by campus police and local law enforcement and barred from entering the campus building trying to meet with Duckworth. On that day, the senator left from the back of the building to avoid constituents.
The only instance in which activists have been able to engage with Duckworth was on October 20, when the senator visited the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview days after the public funeral of six-year-old Wadea Al Fayoume.
One student who talked with Duckworth that day recalled, “She stopped and talked to us a few seconds. And I remember when I was talking to her and kind of addressing her complicity in allowing funding to Israel. I remember in the meeting itself, she looked at one of our organizing comrades straight in the face, and as they were trying to hold her accountable for her unequivocal support for Israel, Tammy Duckworth looked her straight in the face and said ‘I will continue to be the best friend to Israel.’”
Although Duckworth again refused to speak with her own constituents on November 16, she took to social media an hour after demonstrators left to publish the following statement:
Youth organizers were mortified. One who spoke to Mondoweiss emphasized the repeated use of the term “civilized” that it appears Duckworth used intentionally to cast Palestinians as uncivilized. Another organizer pointed out that Duckworth refers to Wadea al-Fayoumi as “Illinoisan” instead of simply using the word “Palestinian.”
Members across the Palestinian community continue to recognize the hesitation their elected officials have in referring to their Palestinian identity and are disturbed by this reality. Another organizer stated to Mondoweiss, “People had a die-in feet from her — office to mourn the thousands of civilians dead, and she has the audacity.”
The protests on the 16th joined a long series of local direct actions and organizers promise they will continue to pressure their leaders and remind them of their choices, emphasizing that the stances they take now will not soon be forgotten.
Khadija Quadri Al Jilani
Khadija Quadri Al Jilani is a writer, photographer, and graduate student in sociology.
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