They gathered in front of a “CaribNation” sign under the arch at around 6 p.m., without bright apparel or colorful signs to mark them as protesters, and with less than ten in their ranks to start. They’d pick up more on the way downtown, promised Caroline Perry, a Weinberg sophomore and the activism chair of Rainbow Alliance.
Perry carried a stack of blank poster boards and bundle of wood handles to tape on the back of the signs. When you’re a student protester, and you only have a few hours to put your college life on hold and take to the streets, you make your signs on the way to the rally.
On a day marked by the appointment of a new Supreme Court Justice, Perry and company were part of a vocal group that made sure that the day’s other big legal decision, the California Supreme Court’s upholding of the Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage, was not forgotten. They took the El to Belmont and walked a few blocks to join up with more than 1,000 protesters gathered near the Center on Halsted.
It appeared well-planned — a mob of people decked out in rainbow clothes, and an occasional wedding veil, elaborate and clever signs, and scaffolding and speakers — but the whole protest had only materialized earlier that afternoon, when the court released the decision.
“Drop everything to the extent that it’s possible,” Perry said of her approach to organizing students to join last minute protests like Tuesday’s. “We take advantage of a lot of technology, which is very useful. I don’t know how people did this in the days before email and Facebook, and now, Twitter.”
Perry has some experience throwing together last-minute protests – in the fall, there was a “flurry of activity” on gay rights in Chicago, she said.
“You don’t typically have a lot of warning, it’s just a matter of we need to react, now,” she said. “We need to tell the world what we think.” But Perry knows that a class schedule can easily get in the way. “That’s difficult as a student,” she admitted.
Two of the students who showed up initially at the arch dropped out on the walk to the El, because they realized they needed to be back on campus by 9 p.m., and wouldn’t be able to make it.
On the train to Belmont, the protesters debated which slogans to put on their blank poster boards and struggled to write neatly on a bouncy ride.
“Tell me what to write,” demanded one student. She eventually moved to the window to get a flat surface, once she had an idea for a slogan.
“I don’t know what I’m doing, I always make this stuff up on the spot,” admitted Perry as she wrote her messages on the paper. But it’s clear — later she talked about how “huge” it was that Vermont passed gay marriage through the legislature, and a smile crossed her face — that she thought about what she wanted to say.
Communication freshman Adam Docksey said he found out about the rally through a Facebook message, and alerted his friend Matt Mitter, a University of Illinois freshmen. Both said they have been involved in gay rights issues for years. Mitter said gay rights have been “relatively vital.” But impromptu participation in a protest like this was something that “definitely wouldn’t have happened in high school,” Mitter said.
At the protest, the chants and a grainy, microphone-enhanced voice were audible from a few blocks away, but the rainbows were most striking from afar. In the Northwestern crew (which added a few more when it reached city) the only rainbow is on a multicolored bag that one of the girls wears.
They start to get more excited and animated as they approach, and some join in the chants.
They finish creating their signs and start to move in to the crowd. It had started drizzling. Perry said a few minutes earlier, “I would really love it if we could see more Northwestern students involved in some form of activism whatever that might be for them.”
“It’s cold and it’s rainy and it’s difficult, but it’s exhilerating, when you get a big group of people together, united by a common cause, it’s really rewarding,” Perry said.