Led by Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, 15,000 people took to the streets of Chicago to protest on May 20, the opening day of the NATO summit. The demonstration was the largest antiwar demonstration in the U.S. in several years. The mass demonstration was the culmination of a week of activity against NATO and the G8 summits. Both summit meetings were originally planned for Chicago, but as protest organizing gained momentum, the G8 summit was moved to Camp David while the NATO summit was reduced to only 2 days from the week long summits originally planned.
As the summit approached, the May 20 demonstration gained impressive support from many diverse groups, including Jesse Jackson and Operation PUSH, area unions including many SEIU locals, the Chicago Teachers Union, UE locals, National Nurses United, and many others. Peace organizations, community organizations and Occupy groups from around the country supported the actions, as did groups from many countries around the world. International anti-NATO fighters came from several countries and solidarity demonstrations were held in London and several other European cities as well as in Iran, India, Bangladesh, Russia and Canada. Click here for pictures and reports of some of the international solidarity actions: http://nepajac.org/internationChicago.htm.
Speakers at the rally included Jesse Jackson, Sr., a member of the German Legislature, IngeHoger, MalikMujahid of the Muslim Peace Coalition, Vijay Prashad, author of “Arab Spring, Libyan Winter,” Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, Medea Benjamin of Code Pink, Col. Ann Wright, Leah Bolger, president of Veterans for Peace, Carlos Montes of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, and UNAC leaders, among others. Click here for UNAC leader Chris Gauvreau’s message to the rally: http://nepajac.org/chris.htm.
The march, organized by an ad hoc coalition called the Coalition against NATO and the G8 War and Poverty Agenda (CANG8), filled the wide Chicago streets from curb to curb for several blocks. Those attending were predominantly youthful and energetic. The march was lead by the Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who, at the end of the march, conducted a powerful and historic ceremony in which they threw their military medals, in the direction of the NATO summit meeting where more wars in the interest of the 1% were being planned. There was also a moving reconciliation ceremony with some of the war victims being represented by members of Afghans for Peace. Click here for the Democracy Now report of the medal ceremony: http://www.democracynow.org/2012/5/21/no_nato_no_war_us_veterans.
At the end of the ceremony, as organizers urged people to start leaving the area, long lines of police in riot gear started moving towards the stage, preventing many from leaving. Police pushed with their clubs into the crowd as people fell against the metal barricades erected to contain the demonstrators. Soon the police were swinging their clubs at protesters in full view of the TV cameras and reporters; many people were hurt, some seriously. These were not lone-individual, out of control cops; this was clearly a planned attack. Perhaps it was needed by the city to justify the tremendous costs of the security apparatus used by the Emanuel administration, including pre-summit scare tactics and violence baiting protestors. But it was not the demonstrators who were violent, it was the police. It is not peace activists who are violent, it is NATO.
The civil liberties fight
UNAC first put in an application for a permit to march and rally in July of 2011. Five months later, we were informed that there would be no protests during the summits. But as a huge outcry developed, and after press conferences and protests organized by CANG8, Occupy Chicago and many unions, we were granted a permit. During this period, UNAC put a full page ad in the Chicago Sun Times with a statement in support of the right to protest signed by hundreds of people from the U.S. and people from 13 other countries. During this period the Emanuel administration also proposed, and got passed, new restrictive ordnances governing protests. These were also protested by CANG8, Occupy and the unions.
For months leading up to the anti-NATO and G8 protests, the Chicago police and city administration urged people to leave the area and scared people with stories of how the protesters would be violent. CANG8 representatives continually told people that we were holding a peaceful, family friendly demonstration. We organized “peace guides” to ensure that the march and rally would happen as planned. Up until the police attack on the demonstration at the end of the rally, it had been peaceful.
In the days leading up to May 20th, the police raided the homes of several demonstrators and made several arrests. A total of around100 people were arrested in the week preceding the demonstration. Three young men, now known as the NATO 3, were charged with very serious terrorism crimes. It appears that this was a set-up similar to the preemptive prosecutions that Muslims have faced, as a provocateur was used in the same ways they are used to frame Muslims as terrorists.