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Lake Shore Drive protest leader vows to shut down O’Hare traffic on Labor Day

Rev. Gregory Seal Livingston led a protest on Lake Shore Drive in August 2018 | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Labor Day travelers returning to Chicago or trying to leave could have a tough time getting into and out of O’Hare Airport.

The leader of a small group of protesters that shut down rush hour traffic on Lake Shore Drive on Aug. 2 vowed Wednesday to paralyze Labor Day traffic on the Kennedy Expy. or I-190 leading into and out of O’Hare.

The protest is set for “around 11 a.m. or noon” on Sept. 3.

The Rev. Gregory Livingston refused to say precisely where the protesters would gather or how many there would be.

But he boldly predicted that he would have enough of a crowd to make it awfully inconvenient for Labor Day travelers.

“It’s something that we need to get Rahm’s attention with. We’re really following Gandhi’s pattern. Gandhi said, ‘First they ignore you. Then, they laugh at you. Then, they fight you. Then, we win,'” Livingston said.

“We’re not asking permission again. But we’re looking for the same cooperation that Pastor [Michael] Pfleger got on the Dan Ryan….What’s the difference between blocking the Kennedy and blocking the Dan Ryan? If there is no real fundamental difference, I would love for them to talk to us about how they could help us do that.”

Standing alone outside the mayor’s office, Livingston reiterated the demands he made before the earlier march to Wrigley Field that saw a small group of protesters dwarfed by Chicago police officers and members of the news media.

The resignations of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Supt. Eddie Johnson; justice for “police murders;” “de-segregation of economic investment, education and health care assets”; resources for “black-led anti-violence initiatives” and the “re-opening and re-purposing” of all of the record 50 Chicago Public Schools closed by Emanuel.

Video by Fran Spielman | Rev. Gregory Livingston vows to paralyze traffic into and out of O'Hare Airport.

Livingston was asked what it would take — short of Emanuel’s resignation –– to convince him to call off the O’Hare march.

“We have to sit down with the mayor — not his messengers — and have a real conversation about real numbers and real figures and give the people a win now. There is no waiting period when people are literally dying around us. And there are wins that we can get right now that would make a difference in the community,” he said.

Emanuel’s communications director Adam Collins said it is “beyond ironic” that Livingston would declare his desire to “shut off access” to O’Hare to press his demand for more jobs in inner-city neighborhoods one day after Emanuel showcased a concession makeover at Midway Airport that generated 700 jobs “filled by residents in Englewood, Humboldt Park and beyond.”

“Mr. Livingston’s plans would only harm thousands of people living in neighborhoods across Chicago who earn a good paycheck working at our airports on ground crews, at restaurants, as airline employees and beyond,” Collins wrote.

“We all share the goal of continuing to build more jobs in our neighborhoods, but rhetoric that ignores reality won’t create a single job.”

Mayoral challenger Garry McCarthy has accused the Chicago Police Department he once led of “facilitating criminal behavior” — and setting a dangerous precedent — by allowing a Livingston-led group of protesters estimated at 150 to shut down Lake Shore Drive during rush-hour.

McCarthy likened Emanuel to a permissive parent encouraging bad behavior and said the mayor’s failure to order police to arrest the protesters would invite more demonstrations.

“You give an inch, they take a mile,” he said.

On Wednesday, Livingston said he considered McCarthy’s statement the ultimate compliment and that he would welcome being arrested. That would draw more attention.

“It’s an honor that the former police superintendent would want to arrest us. We stand in great, great company — with the Mandela’s, with the Gandhi’s, with the King’s, with the Apostle Paul’s, with the Jesus’,” he said.

Livingston was reminded that he didn’t exactly set the world on fire with the crowd he attracted to the Lake Shore Drive protest.

What makes him think he’ll have enough of a crowd to shut down traffic going into and out of O’Hare?

“Dr. King, when he started the Montgomery bus boycott, there was one woman: Rosa Parks. Everybody didn’t jump on board. But 356 days later, the Montgomery bus company was bankrupt because the people finally got together,” Livingston said.

“We have to start somewhere . . . . We had a pretty good start a couple weeks ago. Many of those same folk are with us already. So we’re gonna keep pushing…I’m pretty sure there’ll be a nice crowd. But the crowd is not really the point. The crowd is to disrupt commerce at O’Hare…We only need maybe a couple hours to make a real difference.”