15,000 march against NATO in Chicago
U.S. military veterans made declarations against U.S. and NATO wars and occupations, throwing their medals off the stage and into the street.
Fight Back News
May 21, 2012
Chicago, IL - In the largest anti-war protest ever held in Chicago, 15,000 people took to the streets marching against the NATO military summit. Inside McCormick Convention Center, politicians, generals and bankers discussed the faltering U.S./NATO war and occupation in Afghanistan. They also forged agreements that set the stage for destabilizing and overthrowing independent governments in places like Syria and Iran.
Outside, in the streets of Chicago’s South Loop however, waves of protesters marched in contingents with a message against NATO and G8, opposing war and poverty. Protesters were chanting and singing, surrounded by police on all sides. They were in high spirits and feeling their power, knowing their message of opposing war and poverty was reaching across the world to people suffering from NATO wars and occupations.
The day began with music and poetry at Petrillo Bandshell in Grant Park, a park famous for 1960s protests against the U.S. war in Vietnam. Rebel Diaz, Tom Morello, David Rovics and hip-hop poets performed, with an appearance by the Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW). As the crowd began to grow, many taking shelter in the shade of nearby trees, protesters listened to speakers from scores of groups and movements that built for the protest against NATO.
The audience listened closely when Chicano leader and anti-war activist Carlos Montes took the stage. Members of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) held a big banner reading “Justice for Carlos Montes” behind him. Montes said, “I am here in solidarity with you today, despite being on trial in Los Angeles as part of an FBI frame up. I am being persecuted because of my anti-war, immigrant rights and labor activism. I organized protests against the U.S. War in Vietnam in the ‘60s and I organize against NATO and the U.S. war in Afghanistan today. We were in solidarity with and inspired by the people of Vietnam in their struggle against U.S. imperialism and we act in solidarity with the struggles of the people of Colombia, the Philippines and Mexico today. I call for the U.S. out of Afghanistan and to no U.S. or NATO intervention in Syria and Iran.”
Hatem Abudayyeh, a Palestinian-American, who is one of 23 Midwest anti-war activists subpoenaed to a grand jury investigation and had his home raided by the FBI because of his solidarity work, also spoke: “We are organizing toward the day when Palestine will be a free and sovereign nation, with the right to return for refugees. We call for an end to U.S. aid to Israel and for people here to join us in demanding Palestinian liberation!” A big roar went up from the entire crowd.
Meredith Aby from the Minneapolis Anti-War Committee spoke about the need to get NATO out of Afghanistan and prevent future U.S. wars for oil and Empire. Aby is also one of the 23 who the FBI raided and she asserted, “Being anti-war is not a crime!’
The Reverend Jesse Jackson, from Chicago’s Operation PUSH and a former presidential candidate, called for an end to spending billions on war. He demanded the money be used to fund social services and end poverty. Jackson educated the crowd about poverty in this country, often portrayed in the media as only affecting African-Americans and other oppressed peoples. Reverend Jackson said, “The largest single category of poor people is white women who are single parents with children.” Reverend Jackson used the African-American call and response tradition in his speech, much to the amazement of Occupy Wall Street activists who use a similar technique.
All in all there were more than 40 speakers from students, labor, immigrant rights, war veteran, environmental, housing and healthcare groups. Speakers included Leah Bolger, the President of Vets for Peace, Larry Holmes of the International Action Center and Skye Schmelzer with Students for a Democratic Society. Many were interested to hear from the Afghan women for peace, and the International League of People’s Struggle representing many international movements for freedom.
There were dozens of international guests who came to the protest, particularly anti-NATO organizations from European NATO countries. The importance of this is not to be underestimated, as NATO is fragile and some countries have already pulled troops out of Afghanistan.
The afternoon march began with a group of Afghan women for peace joined by a large contingent of Iraq and Afghan war veterans marching together. The Coalition Against NATO and G8 (CANG8), the organizers of the march, held the lead banner, with the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) as a part of that.
A river of protesters stretched across four lanes of traffic and for nearly a mile on Michigan Avenue. Onlookers and whole families came out on apartment balconies and onto sidewalks to film and take photos.
When the march came to within a few blocks of McCormick Place, it was time for the war veterans to take command. In one of the most moving moments of any anti-war protest in a generation, U.S. military veterans made declarations against U.S. and NATO wars and occupations, throwing their medals off the stage and into the street. One war veteran describing his combat experience began choking back tears and saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” to which thousands in the streets began chanting, “It’s not your fault! It’s not your fault!”
Other veterans gave impassioned speeches against wars for oil and U.S. imperialism, denouncing the 1% and the U.S. government, while throwing their combat service awards and other medals as far as possible down the street towards the NATO summit. Jacob Flom of IVAW dedicated his medals to Carlos Montes and the Anti-War 23.
The Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) ended the day with an announcement for people to exit to the west, taking note that there was a tremendous build-up of police in riot gear and military-type uniforms. The official show of force was intimidating to people and clearly planned and funded months ahead of time.
The crowds of protesters were so large, however, that it appeared impossible for everyone to exit in time for the end of the permitted Veterans rally. It soon became a scene of police encircling and pushing and shoving a much smaller crowd of people, some who responded in kind and were beaten and arrested. Others were simply singled out for arrest or beaten at random, including a few journalists. The big business media took up this story and these images to attempt to quickly bury the largest and most successful anti-war protest ever held in the city of Chicago.
While the greatest purveyors of violence in the world were meeting inside the NATO summit, the anti-war protesters outside sent a message heard round the world: “Say no to NATO! Troops out now!”
Occupy Wall Street still alive and kicking
and hunger for justice to all those who are fed – Catholic Worker prayer
I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword,” – Matthew 10:34
The anarchists left their rocks at home and police kept their tear gas in the LRAD, so the inevitable clashes May 20 between unarmed young demonstrators intent on marching on the NATO summit and riot-ready robo cops with baseball bats were Chicago-ugly: up close and personal.
But last week’s anti-G8/NATO actions were significant not only because of the sheer guts and stamina of the young people on the skirmish lines of militarized Chicago who bravely held their ground in the streets, but also because the overall mobilization marked the first major antiwar demonstrations in the country since Obama was elected president in 2008 and because the alignment of peace and justice groups with Occupy Wall Street and organized labor is a clear step forward towards building a larger and more powerful mass social movement.
I arrived in Chicago on May 11 and spent the next ten days running the streets, attending on average two direct actions a day for seven days, documenting what I saw with photographs and written reports, and analyzing them from the perspective of a Catholic Worker and community organizer.
Protests began on May 14 – when 8 people were arrested during a protest against the war in Afghanistan at Obama’s national campaign headquarters. For the next seven days, dozens of people on the streets turned into hundreds, then thousands, then more than ten thousand.
By Friday, May 18, more than 3,000 unionized nurses and supporters rallied in a downtown plaza to demand a Medicare-for-All health system and a financial speculation tax on Wall Street banks and financial firms.
On May 29, more than 1,000 Occupy Chicago supporters marched on Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s house and rallied outside his front door.
On May 20, the first day of the NATO summit, more than 15,000 veterans and people from all walks of life marched to demand an end to the corporate G8/NATO agenda.
But the May 18 nurses rally and May 20 coalition march were more permitted parades than direct action street protests that truly challenged corporate political power. The first major confrontation of the week happened on May 15, when about 100 anti-capitalists nonviolently shut down southern parts of Halsted St by marching without a permit, despite the best efforts of 40 bicycle cops. Immediately after the May 18 National Nurses United rally, more than 500 young people shutdown parts of the downtown loop by taking to the streets in a display of mass nonviolent civil disobedience.
These unpermitted street marches were tactically innovative because they continued to build on the Occupy Wall Street model of seizing and holding public space, taking symbolic pacifist action to the level of real nonviolent resistance.
By Saturday night the size of the young crowds marching in the street without a permit had doubled, and more than 1,000 people shutdown parts of the downtown loop, eventually occupying Michigan Avenue. Although the Chicago police were somewhat effective in controlling protesters movements, they failed to clear the streets, and when they attempted to kettle protesters, the young crowd was able use its critical mass to push through the police lines several times.
Sunday, May 20 was different because it was the first day of the NATO summit and the city was a temporary police state, with thousands of police walking the streets armed to the teeth with riot gear. The city had refused demonstrators a permit that was within sight and sound of the NATO summit location at McCormick Place, and when several hundred people broke away from the end of the closing rally and tried to peacefully march the remaining three blocks east to the convention center, police began cracking skulls.
Later that night, hundreds of people successfully massed outside the Art Institute where Michelle Obama was hosting an evening event for the wives of all the NATO dignitaries. On May 21, the last day of the NATO summit, Boeing shut down its national corporate headquarters in downtown Chicago to avoid protests, and up to 200 demonstrators celebrated in the streets before walking to Obama’s campaign office.
The strong showing by tens of thousands of people on the streets of Chicago was important because it credibly established the legitimacy of a small, but resurgent social movement on the left as well as the continued relevance and fighting spirit of Occupy Wall Street.
The mobilization also resulted in tangible victories – from forcing the G8 summit to move to Camp David to stealing the media spotlight away from the international negotiations, to shutting down Boeing for a day.
It’s up to organizers across the country to use the momentum and lessons learned to continue to build an activist base among the 99 percent in our local communities, and to look to the Democratic and Republican National Conventions later in the summer for more opportunities to build a broad-based and united front against the corporate 1 percent.
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