CHICAGO — The anti-violence march planned for Thursday on Lake Shore Drive and the march that shut down the Dan Ryan Expressway earlier this month are part of a national and international trend of using transportation infrastructure as a stage for protests.
This kind of protest has the advantage of being hard to ignore, since it disrupts the daily routines of those who might not otherwise pay attention to the issues being addressed. It also tends to draw more media attention than a picket in front of a building.
"It's definitely been a trend in the last four or five years, literally taking it to the streets and taking over freeways and disrupting people," said Stefan Bradley, chair of the African-American studies department at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
Bradley said some people criticize the tactic because it risks turning off moderates who may have been sympathetic to the cause but are inconvenienced at being held up in traffic. But disruption is the point, he said.
"It's the idea -- to draw attention to particular issues," Bradley said. He said gun violence, particularly in Chicago, has become almost normalized and a nonissue outside of communities of people of color. "By shutting down the Dan Ryan or by taking the demonstration to Lake Shore Drive, people are raising awareness about the issue and not making it an issue that black and brown people have to solve, but rather Chicago and Americans have to solve," Bradley said. "Everybody is affected by this."
The Rev. Gregory Livingston, who is one of the organizers of the Lake Shore Drive protest, said he wants it during rush hour on the wealthy North Side, on the first day of Lollapalooza, to draw attention to problems seen in poorer areas on the South and West sides.
"I believe there are many people in this city who don't know the raw deal other people are getting," Livingston said.
Examples of highway and other transportation protests are numerous, and everywhere:
--In May, people with disabilities blocked access to and from a major highway in Tel Aviv, Israel, resulting in traffic jams. The protesters wanted higher disability stipends.
--In Olympia, Wash., in November, anti-fracking activists blocked train tracks.
--In St. Louis last October, protesters walked onto Interstate 64 and blocked traffic as part of a demonstration over the acquittal of a former police officer in the shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith, a black man.
--Last September, anti-fascism protesters walked onto U.S. Highway 101 in Los Angeles during rush hour.
--July 2016 saw multiple highway protests in response to police-involved shootings of black men, with activists blocking on-ramps onto the San Francisco Bay Bridge, Interstate 94 in St. Paul, Minn., and the Interstate 75/85 Downtown Connector in Atlanta. Here in Chicago, a protest that month briefly shut down the northbound Dan Ryan at 55th Street.
--In Chicago last September, homeless activists briefly blocked inbound Lake Shore Drive to protest the removal of a homeless camp at Wilson Avenue. Protesters also briefly snarled traffic on Lake Shore Drive and the Eisenhower Expressway in December 2014 to protest police killings in Missouri and New York City.
In response to multiple demonstrations in recent years, lawmakers in some states pushed to criminalize protests that interfered with traffic.
The idea of taking to the streets is not new -- the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. led the 1965 march onto the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. The clash on the bridge between peaceful protesters and police using tear gas and billy clubs was televised around the world.
Bradley noted that many people now are sympathetic toward the 1960s civil rights protests, but "they don't understand how wildly annoying Martin Luther King was and the protesters were."
"If it had been left to letter-writing campaigns and phone calls, nothing would have ever gotten done," Bradley said.
Livingston recalled a story his grandfather used to tell about a dog sitting on a porch whining because he was sitting on a nail. Asked why the dog didn't move, the grandfather replied, "It doesn't hurt bad enough yet."
Livingston said change comes from discomfort with the way things are, and the protest will help "redistribute the pain." The march will block Lake Shore Drive at Belmont Avenue, and then move up Clark Street to Wrigley Field, Livingston said.
"Sometimes you have to irritate people to get them to move," said Livingston, a former City Council candidate. He is demanding the resignation of both Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, along with economic investments on the South and West sides. He said he disagreed with the strategy of the Dan Ryan protest, held in an area where people were already familiar with the problem of violence.
Chicago Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in an email that police are meeting with organizers to learn about their plans.
"While I don't have any specifics that I can share as of yet, we are committed to protecting individuals' right to demonstrate while also balancing the potential traffic and public safety implications," Guglielmi said.