This evening at the Fourth Congregational Church here in Chicago...
...there was supposed to be a debate between Rosanna Pulido, head of the Illinois Minuteman Project, and Gabe Gonzalez, a representative of the ICIRR (Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights). Well, Gonzalez pulled out yesterday -- I saw the announcement on ICIRR's website today, which stated:
It is clear to us from the e-mail notices of white racist organizations that this event has the potential to turn into a violent street confrontation.
Well, they were right on one count...that it would turn into a street confrontation. But it wasn't at the hands of any white racist organization, but rather the crowd that gathered outside the church to protest the Minutemen. It went a little something like this...
Jake and I arrived to find the cops out in force and a small group of protesters already gathering. They refused to talk to us and answer our questions about why they felt strongly enough to come out to protest.
The crowd soon swelled as protesters beat them makeshift drums and waved signs like these...
We had spoken with the church's pastor upon arriving. He confirmed that there would be no debate without anyone from the ICIRR showing up, but said that they would continue with a forum for Pulido to speak and answer questions, and for the community to respond.
Jake stayed outside to cover the protesters, and I slipped into the church just as they were about to close the doors. I grabbed a seat in the back, surrounded by protesters.
We began with the national anthem. Well, except for these asshats who preferred to remain seated and make sarcastic comments while the rest of us gave allegiance to our country.
Then the pastor explained about the change of format -- and why -- and introduced another pastor to lead us in a prayer. A guy two down from me chose this moment to shout out his question, even though we weren't even close to that portion of the program yet. He wanted to know how this place could call itself a church and let Minutemen inside.
The crowd went nuts. People started shouting out things. The man was asked multiple times to leave; he just kept shouting. The cops finally dragged him out (if our video makes it up somewhere, Jake got footage from outside the church), to the loud protests of his comrades.
The visiting pastor tried to calm everyone down, as did several other people who were attempting to keep order. People started chanting and stomping.
"Hit the road! Hit the trail! Racist Minutemen go to Hell!"
Things just went dowhill from there. It got louder and more unruly. The news cameras whirred away, the cameramen turning this way and that as various people stood up to should above the melee. The pastor and other leaders tried in vain to quiet the gathering. The cops started looking concerned. The crowd changed chants.
"The cops, the courts, the Minutemen -- all a part of the boss's plan!"
One guy came up behind me and shouted in me ear to ask why I was taking his picture. I told him I was taking pictures of the whole thing for my blog. More protesters filed in from outside, cramming into the aisles so no one could go anywhere.
The announcement was made that the meeting was officially over, and the cops finally got people to start filing out. On my way out I leaned over to a police officer, told him that I was a Minuteman and plenty of people in there knew it, and asked him to watch my back as I made my way outside.
The sidewalk was filled with protesters; I had to push my way out into the street. An angry women broke away from the crowd and followed me, pressing herself up against me as she shouted in my ear.
"Are you a racist? ARE YOU A RACIST? Shame on you! ARE YOU A RACIST?"
I turned and yelled at her to back off. She got in my face. I reached for a nearby cop and asked him to get her away from me.
That's when the crowd saw what was going on. More people broke away and followed after me, yelling and chanting. As they started to stream after me, a police officer grabbed me, put his arm around me, and guided me briskly away from the crowd. I heard them yelling as they tried to come after me again, but more cops blockaded them from following us.
Again, Jake got footage of this going down, so I'm hoping you'll be able to see it soon!
The cop walked me to the end of the street, and Jake appeared a few minutes later. The police officers radioed for a squad car to come pick us up. While we were waiting, the crowd started coming toward us from in front of the church. One of the cops led us onto a grassy area, and we kept walking away from the crowd until the car showed up.
We got inside just in time...the protesters surrounded the car and continued chanting and yelling. Jake got some great video from the back seat of the squad car -- people pressed up against the windows, and the car taking off through the crowd to get us safely back to our own car.
OK, that was long...but worth it, I hope. What a night!
We're back home -- safe for the moment, at least. Jake will have more on that later...