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Why You Should Still Care About Chicago’s NATO Summit

Chicago, Illinois. (Photo: Merrick Brown) When it was announced in March that the G-8 summit would not take place in Chicago as scheduled, but instead Camp David, Occupy Wall Street activists declared victory. After all, it was Occupy that had been making waves all fall, threatening to tarnish some of the glossiest public facades of the most powerful companies and figures in the world, and it is Occupy that is working to organize thousands of protesters expected to flood Chicago next month in anticipation of NATO and (at the time) G-8.

Chicago, Illinois. (Photo: Merrick Brown)

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When it was announced in March that the G-8 summit would not take place in Chicago as scheduled, but instead Camp David, Occupy Wall Street activists declared victory. After all, it was Occupy that had been making waves all fall, threatening to tarnish some of the glossiest public facades of the most powerful companies and figures in the world, and it is Occupy that is working to organize thousands of protesters expected to flood Chicago next month in anticipation of NATO and (at the time) G-8.

Suddenly, there was Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for President Obama’s National Security Council, admitting that the G-8 was high-tailing it from Chicago, Obama’s hometown, because of “political, economic and security issues.”

But real victory for activists was far from secure. The NATO and International Security Assistance Force meetings are still scheduled for the third week of May, and Occupy Chicago, along with other protest groups, are prepared to demonstrate despite Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s police state-esque transformation of the Chicago Police Department.

Even though the G-8 will now be held in a friendly-sounding bunker, the world should still watch Chicago this May, if only to bear witness to the clash between forces bearing wildly different styles of armor. Protesters will be armed with, well, nothing. Signs, maybe some banners. These activists will face a police force on steroids and a mayor wielding unprecedented levels of power, who essentially has full carte blanche to crush protest actions under the guise of maintaining security.

As of right now, it seems authorities in Chicago still expect a large turnout, despite the transfer of the G-8 summit. Chicago Police Department Chief Debra Kirby, head of the department’s international relations office, told the media that the removal of the G-8 from Chicago has done nothing to curb the interest from protesters intending to demonstrate during the summit weekend and police still expect large crowds of demonstrators to descend upon the city.

Meanwhile, Emanuel and the Chicago City Council have placed the city under lockdown in anticipation of the summits featuring the world’s richest nations.

In January, the council voted to approve what activists call the “Sit Down and Shut Up” ordinance, originally consisting of a mandatory $1 million liability insurance for protesters, fines of up to $1,000 for people arrested during a protest, stricter guidelines for obtaining permits and a heightened police presence in the city.

The public backlash was instant and enormous and City Hall was forced to tweak the proposal, though activists were less than impressed with the new version and insist Chicago remains a city that places onerous restrictions on protest.

Andy Thayer and Christine Geovanis from the Coalition Against NATO/G-8 wrote a comprehensive summary of the revised ordinances, outlining why the city’s “compromise” still tramples protesters’ First Amendment rights.

Instead of increasing the penalty for violating a parade permit 20-fold from $50 to $1,000 and doubling the maximum penalty from $1,000 to $2,000 (and keeping in place a maximum jail time penalty of ten days), the new ordinance set the minimum fine to “only” quadruple to $200.

Furthermore, the reformed version of the legislation still stipulates bizarre and unworkable requirements, such as demands that organizers provide descriptions of “any sound amplification or other equipment that is on wheels or too large to be carried by one person and description of the size and dimension of any sign, banner, or other attention-getting device that is too large to be carried by one person, to be used in connection with the parade.”

Under the new ordinance, protesters can apply for a waiver of the $1 million liability insurance for a “large parade,” but it’s up to the commissioner of transportation to decide if there is “reasonable proof” to dismiss the fee, a seemingly deliberate and vague check system that is ripe for abuse and arbitrary rejection of protesters’ requests.

Arguably most worrisome, the revised ordinance also leaves in place a massive police presence in Chicago and Emanuel’s proposal for police deputizing of other “law enforcement” personnel – however he chooses to define that – remains in place and there is no sunset clause on this provision.

The Illinois State Crime Commission recently said it is urgently seeking Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans to work security positions for the G-8, though the chairman claims this is for private security and they will not be working with the Chicago police.

Oddly, city officials said in late March that there wouldn’t be enough officers to watch a large anti-NATO march along its requested route, which raised some eyebrows, given that officials – and the Obama administration – all expressed confidence in Chicago’s ability to handle protests during the summit.

The disturbing aspects of Chicago’s new, buffed-up police presence know no limits. In a Q&A at a business panel held by Secret Service officers and Chicago Police, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said some protesters would be snatched out of crowds by an “extraction team.”

Frank Benedetto, a special agent in charge of the US Secret Service in Chicago who also spoke at the panel, tried to combat fears that business would, in any way, be affected by the summit protests:

When asked by a representative from the New York Stock Exchange concerned about employees working at a data center based in Chicago getting credentials, Benedetto said, “The appropriate arrangements will be made for employees to have access. Our security plan will not stop employees from getting where they need to to [sic] get to work anywhere in the city.” He did, however, say that boats docked in Burnham Harbor would be moved.

In keeping with the themes of oppression and general menace, it was recently announced police will receive an assist in keeping Chicago locked down by the Illinois National Guard, – which will transport NATO delegates – aerial surveillance equipment to monitor activity on the ground and snipers.

The Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications denies that black hawk helicopters seen patrolling the Chicago skies have anything to do with the upcoming NATO summit and, instead, were part of a “routine training conducted by military personnel in cities across the country.”

Police are also preparing to deploy controversial sound cannons against protesters. The so-called Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRADS) emit painful and potentially harmful tones over long distances.

This is the tidal wave of authoritarianism protesters face in May, which is why it’s so essential that Americans carefully watch events as they unfold in Chicago. The battle between the 1 percent and the 99 percent is ordinarily unbalanced and unfair – with the rich holding all the political clout and power – but in Chicago this summer, the scales are even further tilted in favor of the global elite.

“This May, NATO, one of the largest military organisations in the world and the armed wing of the global one percent, is descending upon Chicago. We at Occupy Chicago cordially invite you to join us and thousands around the world in a week of action in protest,” Occupy Chicago declared in an invitation letter released to the public. “We will highlight the connection between our local struggles, global struggles and the policies of the thieves and oppressors of NATO and G-8.”

“The Obama administration seems to be hoping that the American citizens who’ve become newly energized by Occupy don’t make the connection between expanding economic inequality and the brutal wars NATO is waging overseas. But they should,” says Micah Uetricht, an Occupy Chicago protester who was arrested with 174 other people during a protest in October.

“We hear constantly that all levels of government are slashing budgets for social services and privatizing everything they can because we have no money, but that’s not true. We’re pouring massive amounts of resources into the wars that NATO countries are fighting. Our resources are used for drone attacks that kill civilians rather than [for] people’s needs,” he adds.

Occupy Chicago will host ten days of action in protest of the NATO and G-8 summits, even though the G-8 has been relocated. The actions begin on May 12 with a “People’s Summit,” and events are planned throughout the week, highlighting various issues near and dear to Occupy, such as education; immigration; health care; the environment; and, of course, imperialism, with a “No to NATO!” march scheduled for May 20.

Occupy will join forces with a broad coalition of activists and unions for the “Say No to the War and Poverty Agenda” rally, scheduled for May 20 at Petrillo Bandshell, which includes a march afterward to McCormick Place. The event includes participants such as Jesse Jackson, SEIU Health Care Illinois/Indiana, the United National Antiwar Coalition, Chicago Teachers Union, National Nurses United, United Electrical Workers Western Region, Malik Mujahid of the Muslim Peace Coalition and Veterans for Peace, among many others.

“The eyes of much of the world will be on Chicago and it’s a pretty unique chance not only to denounce the wars NATO is waging, but to propose a counter-vision for what kind of world we want to live in: one where people’s needs are put first and we don’t maintain brutal occupations that kill scores of innocent people,” says Uetricht.

Afghanistan and Iraq veterans also plan to converge on Chicago that Sunday in Grant Park to march to the NATO summit where they will ceremoniously return their medals to NATO’s generals.

A call to action released by Iraq Veterans Against the War states, “We were awarded these medals for serving in the Global War on Terror, a war based on lies and failed policies.” Calling this a march for justice and reconciliation, veterans say they will mobilize to “demand that NATO immediately end the occupation of Afghanistan and related economic and social injustices, bring U.S. war dollars home to fund our communities, and acknowledge the rights and humanity of all who are affected by these wars.”

“[These events] have been designed to highlight problems that affect the world by highlighting how they affect our city and illustrate the connection between our struggles and the commonality of our fight,” Occupy Chicago stated.

“Our world has become jilted by war, too much concentrated wealth and too much poverty,” said Jackson. “I’m hoping on May 20 there will be a large demonstration. And, if it’s nonviolent and disciplined and focused, our agenda will be heard.”