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City Council Protester Ban? Clout-Heavy Chicago Aldermen Want To Silence Naysayers

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Activists protest mental health facility closures inside Chicago's City Hall last fall.
Activists protest mental health facility closures inside Chicago's City Hall last fall.

Four of Chicago's most influential aldermen on Wednesday introduced a resolution that, if approved, could dramatically impact the ability of the public to express themselves while attending City Council meetings.

Alds. Edward Burke (14th), Ray Suarez (31st), Richard Mell (33rd) and Carrie Austin (34th) on Wednesday unveiled a resolution that would amend the council's Rules of Order and Procedure.

The city's legislative information center, maintained by Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza's office, contains no detail of the resolution beyond the fact that it is "regarding public disruptions and use of signs."

The Chicago News Cooperative, however, notes that the proposal would ban behavior such as "cheering, yelling, clapping, foot stomping, whistling, booing or jeering" and warns that the council chambers "may be cleared" in the event that such behavior occurs. The proposal also bans meeting attendees from carrying any "signs, placards, banners or posters" that are not pre-approved by the mayor or aldermen proceeding over a committee meeting.

"There is plenty of room outside the chambers," Mell explained to the News Cooperative, which pointed out that the long-time alderman once stood atop his desk during a heated council debate during the 1980s and linked to a Chicago magazine photograph of the infamous scene.

In the midst of the heated ward remap battle, reports emerged that Mell and Austin also got into a heated, racially-charged exchange that only cooled down after police intervened.

The Chicago Tribune reports that though loud demonstrations have traditionally been advised against, only more extreme, disruptive actions have previously been cited as grounds for removal from the council chambers -- and signs have long been both permitted and common.

Andy Thayer, a spokesman for the Coalition Against NATO-G8, a group currently preparing to demonstrate against the NATO and G8 summits in Chicago in May, said the resolution was evidence the city wants "a rubber-stamp audience for the rubber-stamp City Council," the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

Thayer noted that, in the midst of debates over the controversial NATO and G8 protester ordinances earlier this year, police tried to remove demonstrators who were silently holding signs from the chambers, according to the Sun-Times.

Occupy Chicago previously coined Mayor Rahm Emanuel's controversial NATO and G8 protester rules the "sit down and shut up" ordinances -- a mantra that protesters will likely say is also at work in the four council members' new resolution.

In response to news of the proposal, Second City Cop snarked that the city is "about to lose the lawsuit regarding taping of police involved in public interactions, a pretty clear cut First Amendment case. So now they're trying to pass another First Amendment restriction? ... Someone want to give a Civics lesson to the Council?"

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