On a humid Friday at 6 p.m., a cluster of Chicago DSA comrades and I walked to Union Park on the Near West Side of the city to join the latest in a series of protests against police violence. The 170-year-old park has a long history of protest and is surrounded by most of Chicago’s labor union offices but more recently has hosted Pitchfork Music Festival, and a wave of new luxury condos and restaurants sit nearby as gentrification edges west. It was surreal to see the diverse crowd in masks settle into the spots where you usually see huge fences and tents slinging $12 beers all summer.
A program began with speakers from Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (CAARPR), Black Lives Matter Chicago, and various other social and political organizations. The demands for the march were clear: defund the Chicago Police Department (CPD), create community oversight boards for the police, and reinvest the $1.7 billion dollars the city spends on the police into social and economic support for Chicagoans. Speakers made natural connections between police violence, racism, and capitalism, and most of the signs did too — an incredible shift, given the strong liberal protest culture in Chicago.
The march stepped off. It was only once we took the street that I realized how huge it was. I couldn’t see the beginning or end, and I later found out there were 8,000–10,000 marchers. June 6 was the twenty-seventh birthday of Breonna Taylor — the woman murdered by Louisville police in her own home in March — and for nearly the whole march people chanted her name.
Riot cops walked alongside marchers the entire time in light blue helmets the color of the Chicago flag, but largely kept their distance. There was one hairy spot at a turn onto Chicago Avenue where the cops set up a chokepoint with a paddywagon in the middle of the street and stationed riot cops on either side, but a mass of bikers and marshals set up a human wall, and we were able to pass.
Somewhere in the middle of this, I started to cry. People of all ages and genders and races were committed to each other in solidarity in a way I’ve never seen at any of the protests I’ve been to in my life. Water and snacks and tenderness and help flowed freely. Everyone was in a mask except the cops flanking us. We walked through wealthy West Town and yelled for rich people on balconies to come down. We walked under viaducts and screamed and shouted. A Jeep full of guys with Black Lives Matter signs and an enormous Puerto Rican flag met us at each blocked intersection to blast music on big speakers, and a cheer went up every time they appeared.
Finally, around 8:45 p.m., we made a loop back to the park, and the march stopped at the intersection of Ogden and Randolph. Thousands of us took a knee and were absolutely silent for the 8 minutes and 46 seconds it took Derek Chauvin to murder George Floyd. We stayed put and silent past the 9 p.m. curfew, tense and surrounded on three sides by riot cops. Ultimately the organizers called for dispersal around 9:15 p.m. with the caveat that people stick together, and the cops let us peacefully depart. I wish we could have held the intersection longer, but I’m glad they made the choice to keep everyone safe.
It felt like joy in a time of sorrow to be around so many Chicagoans fighting together, and I hope we continue to struggle in solidarity against oppression and police brutality with the same spirit I experienced that night.