Don’t drive down Michigan Avenue this week if you’re in a hurry.
The city has permitted Grant Park to be turned into a 900,000-square-foot NFL fantasy world, courtesy of Oikos Triple Zero, the Official Yogurt of the NFL. Oikos is made by Dannon, a subsidiary of the giant food conglomerate Danone, which prides itself as being “the leading global food and beverage company focused exclusively on better-for-you foods.”
Forgive my lack of joy over celebrating the NFL Draft in Chicago. It is no small irony that Oikos’ monstrous Draft Town is constructed on the very same spot that Occupy Chicago demonstrators assembled in October 2011 to protest against the excesses of corporate power and a global neoliberal economic system that favors the wealthiest 1 percent of the population at the expense of the remaining 99 percent.
Neoliberalism, an economic ideology often associated with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, has brought us privatization, fiscal austerity, government deregulation, free markets and a basic configuration of all aspects of existence in economic terms — prevalent fixtures of the administrations of both Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Bruce Rauner.
Occupy had hoped to remain overnight so as to demonstrate the plight of the powerless and homeless victims of this co-option of democracy by global corporate interests. The city insisted insteadd on enforcing the Chicago Park District’s 11 p.m. curfew. Overall, 173 protestors were arrested, including my law firm’s 15 University of Chicago graduate student clients.
Circuit Court of Cook County Judge Thomas Donnelly ruled that the City’s enforcement of the ordinance violated Occupy Chicago’s First Amendment rights. Unfortunately, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed Judge Donnelly’s decision, and the case is now awaiting review by the Illinois Supreme Court.
Throughout the court proceedings, the city’s Law Department maintained that its need to preserve the greenery, permit cleaning and ensure the safety of the park took precedence over Occupy Chicago’s rights to free speech and assembly. When it comes to Oikos, Danone and the NFL’s right to “commercial speech,” however, Grant Park is now theirs for the week — not to mention all of Congress Parkway from Lake Shore Drive to Wabash Avenue.
This growing phenomenon of neoliberalism’s global corporate intertwinement with our democratic form of government is not just an observation of Occupy, notes University of California, Berkeley political theorist Wendy Brown in her recent book Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution.
While commenting on why we no longer have the funds to govern or educate, why our political institutions are so dysfunctional, and why the citizenry feels so helpless, Brown makes the timely observation that neoliberalism’s “evisceration of robust norms of democracy is accompanied by unprecedented challenges to democratization, including complex forms and novel concentrations of political power. . . .”
It will not take much imagination this week to see where the concentration of political power rests these days in Chicago. Occupy had it right, but they were muzzled. Eat your yogurt and enjoy the circus while you can still pretend you live in a democracy.
Thomas A. Durkin is a criminal defense attorney and a partner in the Chicago law firm of Durkin Roberts & Grohman.