Ex-Deputy Editor Stefan Rollnick shares his experience of being in Chicago at the time of a rally protesting the Charlottesville violence.
I thought Chicago got its nickname, ‘The Windy City’, because it sits on the edge of Lake Michigan; a ‘lake’ that makes the Irish Sea look like a river and with waves so high you could surf them.
Corrupt politicians, violent police officers, rampant gun crime, and political resistance are all part of Chicago’s DNA
It turns out, however, that Chicago gets its reputation for being ‘windy’ because the first politicians in Chicago would shout at each other with such ferocity they would shower the whole chamber in hot air and spittle.
Cities are best described by articulating how they make you feel. Feeling the onshore wind as I cycle towards the city centre I feel intimidated, not just by the crowded cluster of cuboidal skyscrapers but by the history of the city itself.
Corrupt politicians, violent police officers, rampant gun crime, and political resistance are all part of Chicago’s DNA. What’s difficult to reconcile, however, is the contrast of this feeling with the beauty of the lakefront, the charm of its sports teams, and the warmth of its people. Regardless, I continue to cycle hard against the wind into the belly of the beast.
Chicago’s place in American politics has been that of the ticking time-bomb waiting to explode, the pressure cooker, the inconvenient mirror of truth held up by its African American population to the rest of country.
From the race riots and political protests to the historic black mayor Harold Washington and first black president Barack Obama, Chicago has inconvenienced White America with everything from hard truths to hopes of a more integrated future. On this historical backdrop, it makes sense then, that one of the first large rallies in the wake of the horrors of Charlottesville was to be held in the centre of Chicago.
— agitator in chief (@soit_goes) August 15, 2017
At this point, it has been a week since neo-Nazis marched in the streets and only days since Trump euphemistically defended their actions. Calling neo-Nazis ‘good people’ was never going to go down well in a city like Chicago, and as I stand among its protesters it’s clear the wounds are still raw.
As the crowd beings to build in the central plaza, organisers take it in turns to address the crowd. Standing too far away to make out what’s being said, I start talking to Howard, a white guy in his mid-40s who has lived in Chicago all his life. Anecdotal evidence has its limitations, but if there was one genuine take-away from my chat with Howard, it’s that these protests weren’t just full of Democrats looking for an excuse to oppose a Republican presidency.
Since he was eligible to vote, Howard has voted for Gerald Ford (R), Ronald Regan (R), George HW Bush (R), Bill Clinton (D), Al Gore (D), George W Bush (R) and Barack Obama (D). Howard isn’t partisan, and he doesn’t view Trump’s presidency through that lens. In Trump, he doesn’t see a far-right Republican, he sees a man with no values – someone, he thinks, even Ronald Regan would be disgusted by. Our conversation is cut short by the organisers, who have decided enough people have congregated and we begin to march into the centre of the city.
The march proceeds peacefully with regular cries of ‘Not my president’, ‘No KKK, no racist USA’ and ‘Black lives matter’
When you drive along the main highway that runs alongside the city of the Chicago on the lakefront, the view is uninterrupted skyscrapers until you reach the river, where a gap in the buildings reveals a huge, glass tower with ‘TRUMP’ stamped on it in giant silver letters. That giant silver insult offends the locals personally and politically and is also the final destination of our march.
The march proceeds peacefully with regular cries of ‘Not my president’, ‘No KKK, no racist USA’ and ‘Black lives matter’. People line the streets to watch the march go by. Husbands and wives, entire families, stand and smile as they watch their city make its voice heard.
The chants, speeches and resistance will carry on for the next couple hours, but I’m heading home
I take my bike across the street to try to take in the whole picture, a growing crowd of people now quite literally standing in the shadow of Trump, refusing to be intimidated by its relative size. The chants, speeches and resistance will carry on for the next couple hours, but I’m heading home.
As I cycle home with the wind at my back now, the waves coming in from Lake Michigan serve as a perfect metaphor for the city itself. Waves can be destructive, but with the right amount of wind and the right amount of skill you can learn to surf them, creating something beautiful. I just hope the resistance can stay on its board before it gets dragged under the waves.
Do you have photos or stories to share? Let us know at @EpigramTravel