CHICAGO—On Aug. 28, over 160 activists, representing 73 organizations, met at the Kent College of Law here to take the first steps toward building a national coalition capable of mounting sizeable peaceful, permitted marches on the occasion of the NATO/G8 summits to be held next May. Speakers from many Chicago communities spoke alongside leaders of the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC), all of whom reminded the audience that much of the world is in revolt against the wars and austerity packages recently imposed by NATO aircraft and G8 bankers.
“The entire world will be watching us,” said UNAC co-coordinator Joe Lombardo. Given that the U.S. is dominant in both NATO and the G8, Lombardo continued, U.S.-based antiwar and social justice movements have a special responsibility to act in solidarity with the victims of these institutions by building the largest demonstrations possible.
Tuesday, May 15, 2012, the opening day of the summit, was affirmed as the day on which the first of two peaceful legal demonstrations would be held. A larger action, a demonstration that can be more easily be joined by both national and international contingents, is being planned for Saturday, May 19.
Leading Chicago movement figures Joe Iosbaker, a recent victim of FBI harassment and founding member of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, and Pat Hunt of Chicago Area Code Pink and Chicago Area Peace Action opened the meeting. UNAC co-coordinator Marilyn Levin set the political themes for the day in welcoming remarks. Levin said that while the heads of state coming to Chicago say that they will meet to foster consensus on global economic growth and security, they really plan to increase “draconian austerity measures” and soaring debt to pay for their “wars, nukes, drones, and bases.”
And to carry this through, she argued, they are planning “increased suppression of civil rights and liberties, with attacks on unions and dissidents, racist attacks on Blacks, Latinos, immigrants and Muslims;” assaults on the environment; and new controls on energy, food, water and mineral resources.
Kathy Kelly of the Center for Creative Non-Violence brought home the continuing human costs of the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan by telling the story of one of the child victims of a recent drone attack. Mark Johnson, executive director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the largest and oldest interfaith peace organization in the U.S., explained that failing to take on the fight against NATO/G8 would leave both the movement and all individual activists seriously weakened.
A panel titled “From the Wars Abroad to the Wars at Home” featured Chicago community activists who have committed to building the NATO/G8 permitted marches. Keenaga Taylor, from Communities United Against Foreclosures and Evictions; Mark Clement of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty; and N’dana Carter of Southside Together Organizing for Power highlighted the connections between the rise of the war spending and the growing economic hardship and repression in the Black community. Alex Han of Stand Up Chicago!, an SEIU-initiated community labor formation, told the crowd about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a NAFTA-type free-trade agreement with Pacific Rim countries that is being negotiated in Chicago.
Alejandro Molina, from the National Boriqua Human Rights Network, connected the repression of Puerto Rican independence activists with the broad history of colonialism carried out by the NATO countries over a century or more. Muhammed Sunkari of the Arab American Action Network, an organization based in the extremely large Arab American community of the city, urged the attendees to remember the organic connections between war and decades of attacks on the civil liberties of the Palestinian community in the U.S. Activists responded to this panel and other presentations by applauding the idea that there should be 100 teach-ins that educate about the relationship of NATO and G8 to domestic poverty in the different communities of the city between now and May 2012.
The originator of this idea was Malik Mujahid of the Muslim Peace Coalition and executive producer of Radio Islam, a Chicago-based broadcast with an audience of 60,000. Mujahid came to address the meeting, although he said it was unusual to do such a thing during the month of Ramadan, because he felt an obligation to stress the power of massive, peaceful, legal actions as a movement-building activity. Mujahid was instrumental in bringing over 1000 Muslim Americans, many from the Bengali community, to the national April 9 antiwar march in New York City.
Proposals to build and broaden the NATO/G8 march by Mujahid and others were tied throughout the day to the knowledge that the government was going to use all the powers at its disposal to thwart political protests during the summit. On July 15, in response to the news that antiwar organizers had submitted applications for march permits, Chicago Police Dept. Superintendent Garry McCarthy told a Chicago Sun Times reporter that he was preparing 13,000 cops for “mass containment.”
The initial response of the antiwar movement was a July press conference at which Christine Boardman, president of SEIU Local 73; Jokarhi Shakur, student leader, Save City Colleges coalition; Bob Clarke, Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights; Joe Lombardo, United National Antiwar Committee; and others asserted the right to protest and a guarantee from Mayor Rahm Emmanuel that civil liberties would be respected during the summit. The Aug. 28 meeting charted a nine-month national campaign against government efforts to criminalize protests during the May summit.
This effort was informed by activists who had led demonstrations at the 2008 St. Paul Republican National Convention, the 2009 Pittsburgh G20 meeting, and the 2010 Toronto G20 gathering. Meredith Aby from the Twin Cities Antiwar Coalition, Pete Shell from the Thomas Merton Center, and Barry Weisleder from the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War all told of dangerous government repression before and during the demonstrations in their areas.
The NATO/G8 summit in Chicago, all asserted, must be the occasion for the movement as a whole—local, national, and international—to repudiate these dangerous precedents and reclaim the right to political protest.
In response to a individual who wanted the group to consider the likelihood that permits would be denied, UNAC co-coordinator Marilyn Levin reflected the majority sentiment when she said, “We will win the permits to rally and to march.”
> The article above was written by Christine Marie, and first appeared in the September 2011 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.