Distinguished panel discusses activist’s role in NATO Summit
Published: Friday, April 13, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 16:08
The long anticipated NATO Summit is now only about a month away, and the momentum is growing around the city. As more and more plans are released by the city, federal government and transportation officials, a growing percentage of people are beginning to finalize their plans. After months of negotiations and threats, the city and protestors have reached a permit agreement for the parade and protests. Now, activists have begun discussion among themselves to determine how to make their protests as effective as possible.
At an event hosted by local Chicago radio station, WBEZ, last Wednesday, around 150 people discussed the topic with a highly distinguished panel. Lending their expertise and advice, the four-person panel included: DePaul University’s vice president for Community, Government and International Affairs, J.D. Bindenagel; U. of Chicago law and political science professor, Bernard Harcourt; Co-Coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, Kathy Kelly; and U. of Chicago theologian, William Schweiker.
Stemming from unique views on NATO’s modern role, the panelist gave a variety of answers for how activists should approach the Summit. Even though moments of heated debate arose as a result of these sometimes conflicting views, most saw the dialogue as constructive. Genuine excitement and a sense of relief could be heard in long-time peace activist Kathy Kelly’s voice as she said, “it is rather amazing that people all around Chicago will be thinking about NATO.”
One of the more moderate views on NATO came from University of Chicago theologian, Schweiker, who explained his logic as, “Christian realism.” There was a need, according to Schweilker, to frame a critical evaluation of one’s moral ideals and their influence on action, within the context of a “highly ambiguous” world.
He explained that moral claims, regardless of how well-intentioned, have an inherent self-interest due to the nature of humanity. Continuing, Schweiker noted the impact of morals on national policy and action; warning against claims of superiority over those with different ideals. There is a great level of complexity and ambiguity in the World, Schweiker said. Because of that, the US manifesto must not be to intervene in every situation seen as unsatisfactory through a specific moral lens. Instead, the goal must only be to seek “relative peace, relative justice, and relative security.”
Given his views, Schweiker does not condemn NATO in its entirety. At one point Wednesday night, the discussion had spiraled into a debate about overall US military policy and worldwide humanitarian issues. Schweiker stopped the discussion and took a step back. “NATO and militarism must be pried apart,” he said, “while it is necessary to explore their intersection, the two must also be viewed separately.”
In not protesting NATO as a whole, Bernard Harcourt was able to find common ground with his U. of Chicago colleague. Harcourt, who has written about the occupy movement in The New York Times and The Guardian, said that activists who “share sensibilities with the occupy movement” should use the Summit as a “vehicle, rather than a target.”
He went on to remind the audience that some of the NATO member states, such as Belgium and Denmark, are not conventional targets for these types of protests. Therefore activists’ efforts would be better focused, in Harcourt’s opinion, on overall US military spending. He suggested that at the Summit this issue can be addressed by focusing on the United States’ disproportional responsibility for 44% of the NATO budget.
On the other hand Kathy Kelly, whose goal according to Voices for Creative Nonviolence, is to end US military and economic warfare. In contrast to Schweiker, Kelly does not see a separation between militarism and NATO. “There were a series of missed opportunities [by NATO] for cooperation and peaceful negotiations when countries fell into dispute,” Kelly said.
Kelly believes that the military sector of the United States has an unbridled control over politicians and the worldwide economy, as it continues to destabilize country after country. In her opinion, many situations that call for military action should instead be seen as humanitarian issues, and be addressed accordingly.
According to Voices for Creative Nonviolence, Kelly is a war tax refuser and has “refused payment of all forms of federal income tax since 1980”. In a April 12 article,The Chicago Tribune broke down federal spending of income tax revenue in 2011. Around 41.5 cents of every dollar went to direct military spending or paying of the Federal debt (a portion of which is accumulated by war). The two other largest beneficiaries of revenue from federal income tax are Medicare, Social Security.
It is common to group all of the activists planning to protest into one category. However it is important to remember that not everyone is approaching the summit with the same intentions. Come May 20 and 21, there will be separate groups protesting different issues. Lumping them all together would cloud important questions by focusing only on those with the loudest voice, who often hold the most extreme views.