Happy Labor Day? Protesters to shut down O'Hare Airport

As usual, plenty of Americans planned long weekends and trips with their families over Labor Day. Of course, for most of you, that means that tomorrow is when you’ll need to be heading back to work so those travelers will be returning home today. But if you live in the Chicago area that may be harder than it sounds. Protesters have announced plans to completely shut down the Kennedy Expressway, the single major route of access to O’Hare Airport. Protest organizers have a lot to complain about, much of it quite valid, but this is a pretty extreme (not to mention illegal) plan of action. (USA Today)

Protesters led by an activist Chicago minister plan to shut down the nation’s second busiest airport on Labor Day by blocking the primary highway leading into and out of O’Hare International.

The Rev. Gregory Livingston says Monday’s march along the Kennedy Expressway is an effort to highlight the violence and lack of educational and employment opportunities on the city’s South and West sides.

“We must end Chicago’s tale of two cities,” said Livingston, pastor at New Hope Baptist Church on the city’s West Side. “We will shut down O’Hare International Airport.”

Any disruption could cause major headaches for travelers headed home from holiday weekend trips. Major David Byrd, spokesman for the Illinois State Police, said authorities will not allow the protest to interrupt traffic. But he provided no details on how marchers could be stopped.

The complaints that Reverand Livingston and his followers are bringing forward are, for the most part, completely valid. The people of Chicago’s South and West sides, in particular, are being murdered at rates normally only seen in war zones, despite a measurable drop in the homicide rate from last year. The economic prosperity lifting up most of the nation over the past year has largely been missing among the city’s poorest residents and their education system is still woefully behind the curve. The city’s government has seemed largely powerless to provide much in the way of relief.

Livingston would like to see Rahm Emanuel resign as mayor, increased economic investment on the South and West sides and the refurbishment of some of the city schools which have been closed so they can be used for new businesses. I can’t see Emanuel quitting over this, but some of the other demands are at least worthy of discussion.

With all that said, protests to show their displeasure with the lack of results are to be expected, but shutting down a major highway, particularly on Labor Day, is not the way to do it. First of all, you can’t get a permit to close down the freeway except under very special circumstances, such as for a parade. (And even then they wouldn’t be likely to issue a permit to close the Kennedy Expressway.) So this planned event is illegal to begin with.

But beyond that, the purpose of a protest isn’t just to send a message to elected officials. It’s also designed to make your fellow citizens aware of the problem you’re dealing with and enlist their support in petitioning the municipal government for redress of grievances. Stopping holiday traffic to and from the airport and disrupting the lives of that many people is going to have the opposite effect, inspiring nothing but anger in the minds of those travelers rather than sympathy for your cause. This is the same mistake that the Black Lives Matter movement makes on a regular basis and it’s never going to be effective.

The question today is what the police plan to actually do about it. The state police claim that they are, “prepared for all contingencies,” but it’s difficult to see how. These same groups have organized marches in the Chicago area in the past and demonstrated that they can get thousands, if not tens of thousands of people out in the streets. If they all show up on the Kennedy Expressway, the cops simply don’t have the resources to arrest them all. But if the police feel forced to employ more drastic tactics like busting out teargas canisters to clear the freeway, it’s going to turn into yet another debacle for the police. The road will wind up looking like a war zone and the press will have a field day with it.

If your plans today include flying in or out of Chicago, you might want to consider a last-minute switch to Milwaukee or Gary, Indiana and some ground transportation to get there. The scene in the Windy City may turn ugly quickly.