CHICAGO – A coalition of organizations today filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the City of Chicago’s violations of the First Amendment when denying the group’s request to host a march demanding that delegates to the 2024 Democratic National Convention act urgently in response to the wave of nationwide attacks on access to abortion care as well as the LGBTQ+ community. Bodies Outside of Unjust Laws: Coalition for Reproductive Justice & LGBTQ+ Liberation (Bodies Outside) seeks to host the march to demand that national Democrats take federal action through legislation to protect bodily autonomy across the United States.  The lawsuit asks a federal court in Chicago to recognize that the summary denial of Bodies Outside’s permit request was unconstitutional and order the City to allow Bodies Outside to march at a time and in a place that lets the marchers reach their intended audience – the delegates to the Convention.

The complaint filed today also notes that the City of Chicago has not released any plan for accommodating large-scale protests during the Convention. To the contrary, the only public action that the City has taken is the adoption of a permit that creates vague “security zones” around the United Center and McCormick Place during the days around the Convention. The ordinance also prohibits a number of everyday items from being carried into the so-called security zones.

Not only have the zones not yet been defined, but the City has only pledged to let the public know about the scope of the zones through posting on the Chicago Police Department website.

“We want to march to demand comprehensive and inclusive healthcare policies that affirm the needs of trans & queer people,” said Kristi Keorkunian, of Bodies Outside of Unjust Laws. “We want to gather together to demand action to dismantle the systems of oppression that deny LGTBQAIP+ individuals. We are demanding unwavering support and solidarity from elected officials not only when it is politically expedient, but every single day.”

Believing that Democrats have failed to pursue an aggressive, orchestrated national agenda to protect equal rights and bodily autonomy, Bodies Outside began organizing last year for a march to bring their demands to attendees and participants at the Democratic Convention. Planners decided that the best way to reach delegates was to ask participants to gather at Water Tower Park (located at the corner of Chicago and Michigan Avenues) – a location historically frequented by local activists – and then march down Michigan Avenue and State Street. This route, the group believed, would be visible from the Magnificent Mile and the various downtown hotels where international media and convention goers would be located. This visibility is critical to ensure that the group’s demands are seen and considered during the course of the convention. 

On January 2nd, the first day that permits for such a march could be filed under the City’s ordinance, Bodies Outside of Unjust Laws filed an application to march on August 18, the day before the Convention begins in earnest. Over the course of the next few days, leaders of Bodies Outside received phone calls from various City officials counseling the group to be “flexible” and consider altering their route, but these officials did not say what their concerns were or what kind of changes would satisfy them.

After Bodies Outside filed an amended permit application shortening the portion of the route along Michigan Avenue and making other changes, the City denied the application. In denying the group’s request, the City offered an alternative route for marching along Columbus Drive – away from the hotels where delegates to the Convention will stay in Chicago.  Bodies Outside Unjust Laws were given five days to accept the alternate route before it would be rescinded.

"Pregnant people are suffering under inhumane abortion bans,” said Anne Rumberger of Bodies Outside Unjust Laws. “The Democratic Party must take immediate concrete steps to ensure access to abortion and protection of bodily autonomy for all. We have watched LGBTQ people denied basic rights and our reproductive freedom cruelly ripped away as our elected officials have done little to protect these rights.” 

Bodies Outside appealed the denial of the permit before a hearing officer. At that hearing, City officials declared that the march would require too many resources to secure the parade and manage traffic disruption.  But those same officials could not definitively say how many law enforcement personnel would be required nor how many would be available on the day and time of the proposed march. 

Its treatment of Bodies Outside’s permit application is consistent with City of Chicago’s general lack of transparency about how it will accommodate free expression during the Convention.

“The City needs a plan to accommodate free expression during the DNC this summer,” said Rebecca Glenberg, Senior Supervising Attorney at the ACLU of Illinois, who represents Bodies Outside in the matter. “ Instead, their approach appears to consist in denying permits and hoping for the best. Rather than make room for free speech, the City has denied multiple permit requests, authorized undefined security zones, and adopted a new mass arrest policy in time for the Convention.” 

“Chicago needs to be a center for vigorous free expression during the Convention.” 

"The Democratic Party has chosen 'preserving democracy' as one of its major campaign themes this election year. Yet from allowing violent police assaults against pro-Palestinian demonstrators on college campuses to not granting permit requests for any of the marches on their convention, they've made a mockery of their promise," said Andy Thayer of Bodies Outside of Unjust Laws. "To make matters worse, our mayor, elected on a progressive platform, has betrayed his promises of open government for all by passing a new law aimed at banning protests anywhere near the convention."

A copy of the complaint can be found here