'Sorry for the inconvenience. There’s a revolution here.'
Published: Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 16:08
This past weekend was a significant moment in the Chicago political realm as world leaders gathered around conference tables at McCormick Place. However, it was also a significant moment in Chicago activism. Throughout the weekend, and even the past week, thousands of protesters from across the globe gathered in the Windy City to voice their opposition to NATO.
The weekend kicked off with a rally led by National Nurses United. With a campaign dedicated to healing America, the group is a strong advocate of the Robin Hood tax. Melissa Shockey, an RN who also attended Sunday’s protests, said the government needs to put “money into our communities rather than the wars.”
“They created this disaster that our country’s in actually, and so we’re just asking them to give back,” she said.
Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine, as well as Tim Mcllrath from Rise Against, performed for the NNU rally. Morello is a long-time friend of the group and expressed his support for all the anti-NATO movements. Occupy Chicago and other groups also stood in solidarity with the NNU.
“I think that’s where the strength lies is bridging gaps with all the different peoples of society,” Shockey said.
Keeping with the theme of society’s medical well-being, protesters gathered at Horner Park Saturday to oppose the closing of Chicago mental health clinics. Groups rallied at the park and then marched to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s home where they protested in the streets.
“I can’t believe for such a little amount of money they [the city] would cause such a huge problem,” said Polyana Wolf, a protester and Chicago resident. “They’re literally shutting the doors on people, abandoning them.”
Wolf also argued that sending people to other clinics burdens patients and therapists who have to pick up more cases as a result. This will prevent people in need from getting proper care, she added.
“I hope the man has some shame,” she said of Mayor Emanuel. “I hope he cares at all about his public image.”
“They just think they can do what they want with us,” said protester Barbara L., who did not want to disclose her full last name. “For them, it’s just about divide and conquer.
When the summit started Sunday, the protests reached their peak. Occupiers, NNU members, Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans and several other groups rallied and marched from Grant Park to McCormick Place. The veterans led the march and held a ceremony at the finish line to return their war medals to NATO.
Vincent Emanuele, who served in the Marine Corps, said Sunday’s events were about standing in solidarity with their “Afghani brothers and sisters.”
“It allows them [the vets] the opportunity, I think, to come to peace with some of what they had either experienced, witnessed, so forth,” he said.
To many protesters, NATO represents a “war machine” that takes money away from more important things like education and healthcare. Occupier Taylor Niemy, who traveled to Chicago from Seattle, agreed.
“It’s really everything,” he said. “It’s education, it’s the political system, either left or right.”
Niemy also expressed frustration with the mainstream media.
“When they’re trying to get news on a protest that’s against corporations from a corporate news station, then there’s a conflict of interest,” he explained.
Some protesters even went so far as to suggest that NATO should be removed, as chants like “More war? Hell no! Down with NATO!” rang through the crowd during the march.
“Everything that happened during the Cold War is conveniently excused,” said musician David Rovics. “I don’t think NATO ever had a reason to exist in the first place.”
At some points during the weekend, there was tension between protesters and police. Riot and state officers lined the streets and sidewalks when they reached McCormick Sunday, and several arrests were made. Some protesters were injured as well, and, according to various outside media reports, someone was run over by a police van Saturday night.
However, things wrapped up Monday after the second day of the summit. In the morning, protesters marched from Union Park to Boeing headquarters at Randolph near Wacker, where they sat and rallied against the company’s contribution to war efforts. They demanded that the government “take those billions of dollars out of the war machine.”
Despite the heavy conversation, protesters donned party hats and sprayed confetti and silly string everywhere. They also used noisemakers to rally up the crowd, and one protester claimed “this is not just a one-day fight.”
From Boeing, they marched to President Barack Obama’s campaign headquarters at Randolph and Michigan and held another sit-in and discussion.
“If we want to move forward,” said one speaker, “we must move towards one another.”