In a series of May Day rallies and marches Tuesday, police and protesters alike got a miniature glimpse of what the NATO weekend in Chicago might look like, though officials cautioned it is impossible to predict what the tone of demonstrations may be during the May summit.
While a couple of thousand demonstrators and a few hundred police moved through the city, closing streets along the way in a boisterous but peaceful event, the May 20-21 summit is expected to draw thousands more people amid a much more serious, high-security backdrop with President Barack Obama and more than 50 other world leaders in town for meetings of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Photos: May Day in Chicago
Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy stressed there was a limit to the parallels to be drawn, given the unknowns of how large NATO demonstrations will be and whether violent protesters will join the crowds of Occupy Chicago, labor and peace activists expected to demonstrate throughout that weekend. Nonetheless, McCarthy said police on the street Tuesday did a good job of carrying out their recent training.
"I think it went extremely well," McCarthy said as the crowd slowly dispersed from an ending rally at Federal Plaza. He added, "Frankly, it wasn't that big a crowd,"
There was ample taunting of the police from protesters along the march route, but supervisors rotated officers away from the protesters before tempers flared.
"They were showing a lot of patience ... that's the way that we trained and it seems to be taking root, so I liked what I saw today," McCarthy said. "We have to have thicker skin, and we did that."
Police estimated the crowd at about 1,000 when it stepped off from Union Park about 1:30 p.m., though it may have doubled by the time it reached Federal Plaza. No arrests were reported.
There were other rallies across the country marking the May 1 celebration of organized labor, and the Occupy movement sought to use many of them to re-energize its organization.
Occupy Cleveland canceled its events "out of respect for the city" after U.S. authorities announced the arrest of five self-described anarchists in the Cleveland area on suspicion of plotting to blow up a four-lane highway bridge over a national park. Occupy Cleveland said the men were associated with its movement but disavowed their actions.
According to the federal criminal complaint, one of the defendants boasted that anarchists would wreak havoc in Cleveland as a prelude to disrupting the NATO summit. The Chicago FBI office issued a statement that "there was no evidence developed of a planned or credible threat" to the upcoming summit or Chicago.
The demonstrations in Chicago started with small groups of protesters in front of banks in the Loop's financial district. In front of the Bank of America, protesters chanted, "The banks got bailed out and we got sold out."
When they tried to block the doors of the building, uniformed police moved them away.
As the group moved west to join the noon rally at Union Park, they got a mixed reaction from Loop workers.
"Get a job, you jerks!" a man in a suit yelled as the protesters crossed Wacker Drive, while other onlookers shot videos on their phones.
The traditional May Day rally in Union Park had a relaxed lunch-break atmosphere. Vendors sold cotton candy while a guitarist led a sing-along in Spanish, standing on a flatbed truck adorned with a banner that read: "Legalize Hard Working Immigrants."
Jim Rhodes, 71, of Logan Square was holding one end of a yellow banner that read "Health Care is a Human Right." A retired purchasing manager for an aluminum company and a grandfather of six, Rhodes said he belongs to a group that advocates for an expansion of Medicare to be the tax-supported, single-payer health provider for the nation.
"I'm doing this for my kids and my grandkids," said Rhodes, who added the group planned to participate in NATO weekend protests. "We want everyone to get a Medicare card when they're born and to give it up when they die."
In a drizzling rain, the demonstration moved into the street and headed downtown along Washington Boulevard.