On Monday, the streets in front of Boeing’s corporate headquarters (HQ) were eerily similar to those in other countries where Boeing operates its defense business: bodies lying immobile on the ground, armed law enforcement ready to bring out reinforcements and the constant shuttering of media paraphernalia.
But the scene wasn’t taking place in Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya. The bodies on the ground were in downtown Chicago, part of a “die-in” and protest outside of the defense contractor’s office as part of the week of action against the NATO summit coming to Chicago, and joined by several hundred police officers that were part of the beefed-up enforcement around protests during the summit.
“Boeing is one of the major corporations that raised money to bring the summit here,” said Micah Philbrook, with Occupy Chicago. “Instead, that money could have been well better spent in our own communities.”
Pointing to the heavy police presence, Philbrook said: “These people that are meant to serve and protect us are here serving and protecting the military arm of the 1 percent.”
As one of the largest aerospace and defense contractors in the country, Boeing’s headquarters were the target for the final day of action held against the NATO summit and the military plans that would be discussed during the three-day event.
Activists said that the company has played a leading and lucrative role in NATO operations whole simultaneously dodging taxes and taking city money – a clear example of corporate welfare, they said.
The protesters also said the company has trampled over several other principles that the Occupy movement holds dear, including the environment and the right of workers to unionize.
“Boeing goes out of its way to bust unions, even moving factories across the country to stifle worker’s rights. Boeing production facilities are continually found to be massive polluters, leading to the company being listed as one of the top 50 corporate criminals responsible for environmental destruction,” the press release about the event said.
The connections the anti-NATO summit protesters have been making between war spending abroad and austerity at home also came into stark relief as the group pointed out the tax breaks that Boeing has received since it moved its HQ to Chicago in 2001.
“Illinois agreed to provide Boeing with up to US$41 million in tax breaks and various state grants over 20 years, while the city of Chicago offered an additional US$19 million in property-tax relief over a similar period and a US$2 million grant,” said Space and Tech.com.
In addition, the city: “agreed to contribute US$1 million to retire the lease of the existing tenant in the space that Boeing will occupy.”
The company has also come up against scrutiny for its role in some of the most infamous episodes of the war on terror, as well as repression during the Arab Spring.
A subsidiary of the company, Jeppesen DataPlan Inc., was the target of a lawsuit by five men that had been flown to various black sites in the Middle East where they had been tortured. The lawsuit, dismissed in September 2010 after the Bush administration asserted the state secrets privilege, said that the subsidiary had been complicit in flying detainees to black sites.
Then, in February 2011, another company owned by Boeing helped shut down Egypt’s phone service during the anti-Mubarak protests, as well as selling Egypt surveillance technology that would help identify the voices of dissidents.
After a week of mass protests that brought 15,000 people onto the street for its crowning event, marches without permits that led to riot police beating protesters and months of planning, the group was ready to celebrate a victory.
“Today we celebrate the power of the people over Boeing and corporations in general,” said Philbrook. “We released a statement saying we were going to march on Boeing. Two days after that, they erected a giant fence and three days after that they told their 500 employees to stay home.”
Philbrook admitted that shutting down the corporate headquarters is not the same as shutting down production for Boeing, but said he saw it as a start to shutting down “where they manufacture their weapons of destruction.”
After the protest at Boeing, the march took off and snaked through downtown Chicago and gathered people, while flanked by rows of riot police on either side, before taking over a sunny, four-lane street near Chicago’s Millennium Park and had the promised celebration.