It's not the Super Bowl, but the Group of Eight meeting between the leaders of the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, Japan, Italy and Canada and their emerging buddies from Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa combined with a NATO summit happening at the same time is the big game for political protesters.
After a year of occupying cities and engaging in general strikes, protesters finally get to voice their disgust with current economic conditions on a grand scale May 19-20 when the G8 rolls into town. It's hard not to flash back to images of the 1968 Democratic National Convention when imagining how the G8 may go down, and it has to be tempting for protesters to make a big and potentially embarrassing statement to President Barack Obama in his hometown and in front of his good buddy, Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
A lot has changed in 40 years, though, and G8 organizers and local security have shown little patience for the well-organized riots that have accompanied other events. The last G8 summit held in the U.S. -- at Sea Island, Ga., in 2004 -- was basically an expo for the Department of Homeland Security featuring a whole lot of police and military presence and very little noise from the black bloc protesters. The stakes are somewhat higher this year in a more heavily populated area with no less than NATO sharing space in town May 15-22, but Emanuel's not exactly known for his light touch. He's already jacked up the fines for "resisting a police officer or aiding escape" to a range of $200 to $1,000 from as low as $25 to $500; placed a two-hour time limit on demonstrations; restricted bullhorn use to certain hours; pushed opening time for city parks to 6 a.m. from 4 a.m.; and required multiple new permits for marching demonstrations.
The Department of Homeland Security gave the city $55 million to cover security costs and says it will cover overruns, but these protests tend to get a lot more costly that that. Seattle, for example, paid more than $1 million in settlements to 1999 World Trade Organization protesters and another $800,000 in police misconduct settlements. New York City, meanwhile, paid out $2.7 million to settle a lawsuit brought by 52 people trapped in mass arrests during Iraq War protests in 2003.
If you're watching at home, expect to see lots of uniforms and lots of suppression. If you happen to be caught in the city that weekend and don't feel like donning black or taking a baton to the pelvis, batten down in the local bar with a Three Floyd's or some Old Style or take the opportunity to clear out the DVR a bit.