Healey outlines Chicago's plans for NATO summit
Published: Thursday, May 3, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 16:08
In a recent speech to the Niagara Foundation, Executive Director of the NATO Host Committee Lori Healey outlined plans to prepare Chicago for the world stage in preparation for the upcoming NATO summit.
At the April 19 speech attended by a group of DePaul University journalism students, Healey released details on security and planned protests during the May 20 – 21 meetings to be held at McCormick Place.
The summits are estimated to bring nearly 10,000 people to Chicago including more than 7,000 delegates from 60 countries, and about 2,000 international journalists.
Healey also discussed the NATO crossroads program, an initiative intended to showcase Chicago’s global diversity through athletics, theater and food.
“One of the things we were really hoping to do is to reach out to all of the communities in Chicago and highlight our diversity,” Healey said at the Niagara Foundation, an organization promoting global fellowship. “This is a great opportunity to show that we are a global city.”
With concerns over security growing, Healey attempted to alleviate worry by expressing confidence in the Chicago Police Department and Secret Service. Healey said most delegates would be arriving on special flights.
“The Secret Service is at the top of security planning list along with the Chicago Police Department,” Healey said. “There have been protests registered for the summit, but there are protests every single day in Chicago. Most people don’t even know about them.”
Healey said two protests have been granted permits: a May 18 protest by the National Nurses United and a May 20 protest by the Coalition Against NATO and Iraqi Vets Against War.
“We expect that people will continue to have the right to express their First Amendment rights. Freedom of speech is what makes America great. And that everything will go off in accordance with their opportunity to express their opinions and Chicago’s opportunity to live and work downtown will go uninterrupted,” she said.
Before the May 20 meetings begin, Healey said several events related to the crossroads program will be held to highlight Chicago’s global character.
Throughout the month of May, more than 100 Chicago restaurants will present special tasting menus inspired by the cuisines of the NATO nations. Chefs from some of the NATO nations will be paired with participating restaurants to collaborate on menus that reflect their nation’s cuisines.
“Food in Chicago has surpassed architecture as the thing everyone wants to talk about,” Healey said. “That speaks to how excellent our restaurants are.”
The athletics crossroads, expected to held a week before the summit, will feature events such as NATO Night at Wrigley Field, and athletic competitions between children, ages 6 to 13, representing different NATO countries.
“We really want children to be a part of the NATO experience,” Healey said.
Similarly, theaters throughout the city will encapsulate the theme of international diversity, staging plays and movies originating from foreign countries.
The participation of various businesses reveals a secondary motive behind the crossroads program: prompting local economic growth.
“[Chicago is] an economic powerhouse. We’re a hub for international trade and we have strong international trade partners who are already here,” Healey said. “We’ve pushed very hard so that Chicago remains open for business.”
Other events include a kite festival at Montrose Harbor, a reception for ISAF countries at the Field Museum and a gathering for NATO delegates at Navy Pier.
The crossroads program, however, is not just an opportunity for dignitaries and businesses, Healey said. Rather, it’s a chance for local residents to engage in an open dialogue about their place in a larger international community.
With this in mind, the NATO Host Committee is working with Chicago Public Schools to expose them to geopolitics. Special speakers and video contests where students can show off their international knowledge are but a part of this emphasis on community relations.
Healey hopes these programs allow for all NATO participants, Chicago residents included, to find a middle ground, a crossroad.
“You can’t spend enough money on international advertising to host an event like this. It’s a unique opportunity for Chicago,” she said.