DeKalb protesters stage bold demonstration

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//img-h5P5nv7oHG.jpg’, ‘Photo by Jeff Havens’, ‘Demonstrators marched on DeKalb streets Sept. 18 in response to Vice President Dick Cheney’s fundraising visit to the area.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//img-k6PttxSZZb.jpg’, ‘Photo by Jeff Havens’, ‘Attendees of U.S. Rep. Dennis Hastert’s fund-raiser walk past sitting demonstrators at NIU’s Convocation Center.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//img-Gu76clkni6.jpg’, ‘Photo by Jeff Havens’, ‘An NIU officer tries to direct demonstration leaders back to the official free-speech zone to the east, as a WTVO-TV Channel 17 news cameraman captures the action (far left). However, demonstrators turned west to stage their protest.’);

Demostrators defy police requests to stay away from arena where Dick Cheney addressed supporters

Being denied an on-site permit to voice their concerns didn’t deter about 100 demonstrators in DeKalb Sept. 18. They staged a peaceful, sit-down demonstration only a few feet from the entrance to where Vice President Dick Cheney addressed approximately 2,000 attendees of U.S. Rep. Dennis Hastert’s (R-14) fund-raiser at the Convocation Center at Northern Illinois University (NIU).

Chanting slogans such as “This is what free speech sounds like” and “Whose street? Our street!” demonstrators defied police requests to walk back to Central Park several blocks away from the Convocation Center.

Instead, they marched around parked vehicles on sidewalks, stopped about 40 feet from the Convocation Center’s doors, sat down and continued chanting, banging plastic and metal containers and holding up signs for Bush supporters to view as they worked their way into the arena. The group was also accompanied by a tuba and drum player who kept the beat for shouted slogans.

NIU police appeared surprised that the demonstrators converged onto the center. They tried to persuade some in the group to walk back to Central Park because they allegedly posed a security risk.

However, DeKalb City Councilman Steve Kapitan, who attended the protest “to see how it would be handled,” asserted that the demonstrators never posed such a risk. He said the irony of being denied an on-site permit allowed protestors to stage a more effective demonstration by being more readily seen and heard by the attendees of Hastert’s fundraiser.

Kapitan said had an on-site permit been granted by NIU, demonstrators would have likely been confined to an area where attendees were still in their vehicles waiting for valets to park their cars and SUVs.

NIU police videotaped the sitting demonstrators. An unidentified NIU police officer was asked by a demonstrator what police planned to do with the video. The police officer responded by saying he didn’t know. Overhearing the question and response, another demonstrator lamented it would be sent to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.

One unidentified police officer was heard telling protesters that if they didn’t leave the area, there would “be consequences.”

The protesters’ presence appeared to change a plan to land a helicopter at the center. The helicopter presumably carrying Cheney circled the center several times for approximately 10 minutes, but landed at a different location.

The protesters began assembling in Central Park near Stevens Towers on NIU’s campus in late afternoon. By the time the march commenced, about 200 demonstrators walked east, and then south to the intersection of Annie Glidden Road and West Lincoln Highway, where many attendees would have to travel to get access to the Convocation Center.

Lisa Mayse-Lillig, one of the demonstration organizers and head of the Northern Coalition for Peace and Justice, asked participants to be peaceful and to obey all laws before the march, and that they were on their own once they left Central Park, which was the officially designated free-speech zone. At least four other known groups also participated in the demonstration: Veterans for Kerry, student-based Labor Rights Alliance, NIU Women’s Alliance and the DeKalb Interfaith Network.

The protesters occupied all four corners of the intersection and stoplight islands for about 30 minutes. As some cars and trucks honked their approval, the crowd loudly cheered in response. A few people from passing vehicles shouted their support for President Bush, which prompted “boos” and jeers from the crowd.

From the intersection, the demonstrators marched west toward the Convocation Center, accompanied by a news team from WTVO-TV Channel 17 in Rockford. When marchers reached Stadium Drive about one-quarter mile away, they were intercepted by three NIU police officers on foot who diverted the procession north.

After the sidewalk ended, the demonstrators marched about 100 yards through the grass of a vacant lot along Stadium Drive West. They chanted “Whose grass? Our grass!” while the tuba played “Yankee Doodle.”

As they marched thorough the field closing in on the Convocation Center, an unidentified NIU police officer ran up to the group and attempted to direct the leaders toward the official free-speech zone to the east at Central Park. However, the leaders turned west onto the sidewalk that led to the arena.

The officer used his shoulder-mounted microphone to presumably radio others about the demonstrators’ direction of travel. Security personnel attempted to block the advancing procession by driving a large pickup truck and golf carts onto the sidewalk about 75 yards from the center’s doors.

Demonstrators walked around the vehicles and continued toward the arena. By that time, a wall of about 15 to 20 security personnel and uniformed police stood ready to halt the demonstrators about 30 feet from the doors. The wall of security also stood between the protesters and Oswego East High School cheerleaders who were shouting “U.S.A, ”which was nearly drowned out by the protesters who chanted “Bush lied, people died” and “1,2,3,4, Bush is an oil whore.”

About 40 feet from the entrance, the leaders turned and instructed the other participants to sit on the grass between the sidewalk and center’s wall, where they remained for about 45 to 60 minutes. Shortly after arriving, NIU Police Chief Donald Grady attempted to persuade some demonstrators to leave because they allegedly posed a security risk.

When the demonstrators didn’t leave, at least three NIU police began videotaping the demonstrators. Grady refused on-scene comment about the demonstration.

About a dozen demonstrators remained at the center after the majority left to attend the official counter rally back at Central Park, where U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and others addressed a crowd of about 200 people. The last of the demonstrators peacefully left the Convocation Center without incident or arrest by sunset.

Durbin fired up the crowd at the official rally by accusing the Bush administration of misleading Americans about the reasons for the U.S. intervention in Iraq. Durbin said: “Before the invasion of Iraq, when it came to the information given to the United States, the greatest misleader was Vice President Dick Cheney. Time and again, he came before the American people and said these are the reasons to go to war, and time and again he was wrong.”

Among the reasons Durbin cited why Cheney was wrong was that the administration said Iraq was building nuclear weapons that could threaten countries in the Middle East and the U.S. Durbin added that there were no unmanned aerial vehicles that could strike nearly anywhere in the world, and that there was no link between 9/11, al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.

U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo (R-16) told WNIJ 89.5FM radio that Durbin’s presence at the rally held by local Democrats after the protest was inappropriate.

Nearly all attendees of Hastert’s fund-raiser quietly walked past the demonstrators. About a dozen attendees declined comment about the demonstration and why they were at the fund-raising event.

However, one man who did not want to be identified, said he was there because his employer, United Parcel Service, had a table at the event. The man declined comment about any Bush policies and his opinion about the Iraq war.

After viewing this reporter’s press credentials, another attendee shouted his unsolicited advice that this reporter should “watch the Fox News Channel” for tips on how to be a “fair and balanced” journalist.

The attendee also said he would pray for this reporter.

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