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The public locations most commonly used for protest in Chicago are owned by different government agencies, and thus have different rules and permit processes. They also enjoy different levels of First Amendment protection, depending upon whether they are “traditional public forums” entitled to the most protection, or other kinds of forums entitled to less protection. Immediately below is a list of these locations, and a brief description of their level of First Amendment protection, along with their owners, rules, and permit processes.
VII. A. Parades in the streets
To hold a parade in Chicago’s streets, protesters must submit a permit application to the City’s Department of Transportation. If the Department denies a parade permit, or grants a modified permit (for example, along a different route than requested), then the applicant can appeal to the City’s Department of Administrative Hearings, and to a judge. For downtown parades, and large parades anticipated to cost more than $20,000 in City services, the applicant must obtain $1,000,000 in insurance, though there is an exception where this amount would be “so financially burdensome that it would preclude” the application.
VII. B. Protest on the sidewalks
Many Chicagoans use the public sidewalks throughout our City as a site for myriad protest activities, including speeches, press conferences, display of signs, marches, leafleting, and attempting to speak with passersby. If such sidewalk protests do not obstruct the normal flow of pedestrian traffic, then the City ordinance does not require a permit. If a sidewalk assembly will burden pedestrian traffic, the ordinance requires five-day notice to the Department of Transportation.
Unfortunately, the U.S. and Illinois Constitutions do not protect protest on sidewalks on private property.
VII. C. Daley Plaza
Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago, owned by the City of Chicago, is a public forum enjoying great First Amendment protection. Daley Plaza is operated by the Chicago Public Building Commission, which has issued rules for using Daley Plaza, and a permit application process.
VII. D. The Thompson Center Plaza
The plaza next to the James R. Thompson Center in downtown Chicago, owned by the State of Illinois, is a public forum enjoying great First Amendment protection. The Thompson Center Plaza is operated by Illinois Central Management Services, which has issued rules for using the Thompson Center plaza, and a permit application process.
VII. E. The Federal Plaza
The plaza next to the federal Kluczynski Building and Loop Post Office, owned by the U.S. government, is a public forum enjoying great First Amendment protection. The Federal Plaza is operated by the federal General Services Administration, which has issued rules for public properties like the Federal Plaza, and a permit application process.
VII. F. Grant Park
Grant Park, located between Chicago’s downtown and Lake Michigan, is a public forum enjoying great First Amendment protection. It is owned by the Chicago Park District, which has issued rules regarding the use of Grant Park and other parks, and a permit application process.
VII. G. Millennium Park
Millennium Park, located in Chicago’s downtown at the northwest corner of Grant Park, is operated by the City’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. The City allows leafleting and begging in Millennium Park. While courts have not addressed whether the First Amendment protects rallies and picketing in Millennium Park, the better view is that it does.
VII. H. McCormick Place
McCormick Place, one of the nation’s largest convention centers, is located on Lake Michigan just south of downtown. It is owned and operated by a government agency known as the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority. The MPEA allows leafleting at doors into McCormick Place, and rallies and picketing at two sites near the convention center.
VII. I. Navy Pier and Polk Bros Park
Navy Pier is located on Lake Michigan just north of Chicago’s downtown, and Polk Bros Park (formerly Gateway Park) is located immediately to the west of Navy Pier. On Navy Pier, the First Amendment protects the right to leaflet, but not the right to protest in a group. In Polk Bros Park, the First Amendment protects both. The MPEA owns both areas, and has issued rules and a permit process for them. The courts are now considering whether a special feature of Gateway Park – it is a small area through which all foot traffic to Navy Pier must pass – means that the MPEA can require a permit for protests by one person or by a small group of people.
VII. J. O’Hare and Midway Airports
The O’Hare and Midway airports are operated by the Chicago Department of Aviation. At both airports, there are sites for leafleting inside the terminals, and sites for small demonstrations on the abutting sidewalks. The Department of Aviation has created a permit application process and rules for these protest sites.