Won’t You Please Come to Chicago? Cheri Honkala on the Democratic Convention

by Ann Garrison, published on Black Agenda Report, May 15, 2024

The City of Chicago has inadvertently granted the Poor People’s Army a permit to march to the convention steps of the United Center during the Democratic National Convention.

Students are protesting Biden and Netanyahu’s war on Gaza all over the City of Chicago while city, state, and Democratic Party officials worry about what it portends for the Democratic National Convention (DNC) scheduled for August 19 to August 23.  Comparisons to Chicago 1968 are common, and the city’s police will be supported by Secret Service, FBI, Homeland Security, and neighboring police departments. Chicago Police Superintendent Larry Snelling is frequently interviewed about preparations, and he says, “We’re the Chicago Police. We’re ready.”

Politico warned that Mayor Brandon Johnson “unabashedly sympathizes with the protesters,” while the World Socialist Website accused him of deploying SWAT teams against peaceful, anti-genocide protestors at the  Chicago Art Institute.

I spoke to Cheri Honkala of the Poor People’s Campaign for Economic Rights about the Poor People’s Army’s plan to march on both the RNC and the DNC.

ANN GARRISON: Cheri Honkala, tell us about your plans to march on the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Chicago.

CHERI HONKALA: Well, we’re actually marching on both the Republican National Convention (RNC), which is in July, and on the DNC in August. We plan to march on the DNC on August 19, the opening day of the convention.

Every four years since 2000, we’ve been responsible for organizing the largest marches on opening day at both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. We anticipate that this march is going to be historic because of all the things that are happening, including Israel’s war on Gaza.

AG: The City of Chicago has been denying all requests for permits to march in sight of the United Center, but you got one, right?

CH: Yes, the city was forced to give us a permit because they failed to respond to our appeal of their denial on time. So everybody and their mother, I’m sure, will be joining our march at 4 p.m. on opening day, and our permit allows us to march right to the front doors of the United Center, where the convention will be.

We intend to have a mock hearing where we will determine whether the president and the Democrats are guilty of crimes against humanity. If so, then we will be serving a citizen’s arrest.

Other things will be happening the day before, August 18th. We have Rapper Peach, Rebel Diaz, and a dozen other progressive and popular artists who are going to be performing at a concert the night before the convention begins. And two weeks before, we will actually be marching each and every day, 90 miles, from Milwaukee to Chicago, so we’ve got lots of work ahead.

AG: Will you be holding a mock trial at the Republican Convention as well?

CH: Yes. We will be holding a mock trial there and also issuing a citizen’s arrest if necessary.

Another thing that I want to say is that we’re really reaching out to anyone in the faith community who understands the horrendous things happening in the world to come and wrap their moral authority around us and help keep us safe. We’ve always demonstrated, since the year 2000, that we’re nonviolent people. So there shouldn’t be any issues with violence.

This march is really important because of the genocide taking place in Gaza right now. We are defending homeless people, while tax dollars continue to finance that war, as opposed to taking care of the basic necessities of life for people here.

Right now we have huge crises. We have fascism that is actually real in this country, and we’ve got immigrants that are just being left to die sleeping outside on the streets and on the borders. And we have artificial intelligence, electronics, and robotics creating massive numbers of unemployed people. We’ve got Cop Cities all over the planet. So we have to decide, like students across the country, to get serious about stepping forward, trying to reclaim a future, saying no to what’s happening in our world. We’re following their leadership and bringing out our families to hit the streets on August 19th.1

AG: Tell us about the march from Milwaukee to Chicago. 2

CH: We’ll be linking up with poor and homeless people from across the country who are going to be caravaning and taking buses. And we’re going to be meeting in Milwaukee. Then we’re going to march each and every day for two weeks and pitch tents along the roadside, or in parking lots of friendly churches. We’re going to be having daily teach-ins, and doing live reporting, and we’re hoping that reporters like yourself will help cover the journey.

We intend to make sure that, with reporters from all around the world in town for the conventions, the real issues are covered.

The other thing that’s also really significant is that we’ve got third parties contending in this election. I’ve always been about independent politics and independent political motion. We’ve invited all of the third party candidates to come and march with us. So far Green Party presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein has taken us up on the offer.

AG: You ran with Dr. Stein in 2012, right?

CH: Yes, I ran with Jill as a candidate for vice president that year, but we’ve extended the invitation to all the parties that are running. I myself am very supportive of Jill and not just because she was my former running mate. I’m also very practical, and I know that she’s going to have ballot status in nearly every state across the country.

I think we have to look at the bigger picture, which is the goal of developing a real independent third party in this country. If we can reach a certain threshold for a presidential election, then the next time around we’ll receive campaign matching funds from the federal government.

AG: I’m in Chicago right now, where there’s lots of talk of what happened here in 1968 and preparing for this convention. There’s anxiety that it will be like 1968, which turned violent when the police attacked peaceful demonstrators. Are you prepared for something like that happening?

CH: Yes, but I’m also sure that the media is fearmongering as much as they possibly can because the City screwed up and gave us a permit to march right up to the convention steps. That means that their only option for keeping us from getting there is to scare the hell out of people, so that nobody shows up.

However, we’ve just never been people—those of us that are on the bottom—who aren’t used to heavy police presence. I live in Kensington here in Philadelphia, where there are police outside my window probably every three days with SWAT teams corralling people. A lot of us, and definitely homeless people across this country, are already dealing with daily sweeps. It’s really no different.

AG: Let’s explain this, again for emphasis. The City of Chicago has been denying permits to everyone else. And they denied one to you, but you appealed it, and then they failed to respond to the appeal in time, which meant that you got a permit to march right up to the front steps.

CH: Yes.

AG: And you’ll be marching with the Poor People’s Army, but you’ll no doubt welcome anyone who wants to march with you.

CH: Absolutely. We welcome everybody. The more the merrier. We do ask that everyone who joins us be nonviolent because the police are not nonviolent, and they’re well organized and financed.

We’re going to have legal observers. We’ve got a very experienced team of folks that have helped make sure that our marches have been nonviolent going back to the year 2000, and we’ve had to deal with fearmongering on a regular basis.

The last time we marched in Minnesota, the feds said that my life was in danger in three different spots. And I said, “Well, if it is, then you had better provide safety.” So we marched and everything was fine.

We could have caved in to the fear around that. But we know that the feds have never provided anybody any kind of safety to begin with, so we’re marching. We know we’re on the right side of history. You can’t not do what needs to be done.

People are dying unnecessarily in this country. They’re dying in Haiti. They’re dying in Gaza. They’re dying unnecessarily in many other places around the world, so it’s really time for us to get organized as a people and demonstrate that we’re not going to be afraid. We’re going to lift our voices. We have a responsibility, with 80,000 reporters in Chicago, to talk about what’s really happening in the empire.

AG: With the constant talk here and within the Democratic Party about 1968, there will definitely be media attention on your march and other protests.

When you say you’ll be holding a hearing and serving a citizen’s arrest if need be. Will that be for US complicity in the war on Gaza?

CH: Definitely, but here at home as well. People die every year from freezing to death in this country. People die because they don’t have access to health care or the other basic necessities of life. The thing that all these human rights violations have in common is that they’re all preventable, unnecessary deaths. So when we have our mock trial, we will be dead serious about asking law enforcement to enforce our citizen’s arrests.

AG: Okay, is there anything else you’d like to say?

CH: We need as much support as possible from people who either want to come and join the march or make food and meet us along the roadside between Milwaukee and Chicago. And, as I said earlier, we hope that people of the faith communities will reach out to envelop us with their moral authority.

If musicians and artists are interested in joining the concert the night before, reach out. If you can help people catch a ride or donate to help get us to Milwaukee or Chicago, we need all the support we can get.

Our website is poorpeoplesarmy.org .

AG: Thank you for speaking to Black Agenda Report.

CH: Thank you.

*Featured Image:Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson and Chicago Police Superintendent Larry Snelling. Photo: Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times

Ann Garrison is a Black Agenda Report Contributing Editor based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2014, she received the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for her reporting on conflict in the African Great Lakes region. She can be reached at . You can help support her work on Patreon .

Share the love

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Solve : *
22 − 7 =