• Thousands of all stripes gather to demand end to war
• NATO summiteers cower behind locked doors in Chicago
By Mark Anderson
CHICAGO—Police and security personnel outnumbered and corralled the 3,500-plus protesters at the Windy City’s May 20-21 NATO summit. This was a tacit admission from the top that today’s ruling elite are running a criminally inclined operation, which must be shielded from public scrutiny.
This AFP writer ventured to Chicago and witnessed a dramatic course of events as NATO’s insular summit unfolded nearby, away from peoples’ view. Protestors, who were never allowed anywhere near the summit at McCormick Place and certainly never posed any danger to it, held a spirited four-hour rally at the Petrillo Music Shell on May 20 along Columbus Drive. There, they shared a range of crucial concerns that they want the world to hear, since the nearby leaders apparently won’t listen.
The rally laid the intellectual and moral groundwork for a massive march along South Michigan Avenue, culminating in a ceremony at the Cermak Street intersection. Some 50 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans ripped their service medals off in disgust and threw them onto the streets in the general direction of the summit. They confessed their past military misdeeds in a somber ceremony that brought hundreds to tears—precisely the kind of moral responsibility and soul-cleansing that the war makers at NATO studiously avoid.
“You are making war against the will of the people, and it will stop,” one of many speakers proclaimed at the rally, as families, older folks, countless teens, masked anarchists and others from all walks of life cheered and held placards high.
Another activist called NATO the “North Atlantic Terrorist Organization,” denouncing NATO’s military operations in recent years in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Libya. “Libya was bombed for eight months by President Obama and by NATO,” he said. “Down with the African command!”—an apparent reference to NATO’s groundwork for an African Union, yet another plutocrat-inspired free-trade bloc.
Freeing imprisoned Private 1st Class Bradley Manning, who’s still languishing in solitary confinement in a military brig for allegedly sharing military secrets with the whistleblower Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks, was also a rallying cry.
NATO Summit 2012
• Demonstrators decry costly imperial wars fought for bankers, corporate giants
• Top bosses want NATO more involved in decisionmaking of member nations
By Mark Anderson
Over the course of the weekend of May 20-21, representatives of more than 60 nations, plus the secretaries-general of NATO and the UN, skulked into the former domain of the late non-interventionist Chicago Tribune publisher Robert R. McCormick and met at McCormick Place in downtown Chicago. Officially, the gathering covered three main topics: Afghanistan and the murky timetable for withdrawal, the “Smart Defense” concept and forging new “partnerships.”
Reams could be written about NATO’s status and plans. But the Chicago summit was primarily premised on getting out of Afghanistan in 2014, even though former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ron Neumann confirmed in February that a considerable U.S.-NATO military presence will remain there at least through 2016.
More troubling still is the concept of Smart Defence, described as “a new mindset,” wherein NATO embeds itself more deeply into national decision making.
And as for reaching out to new partners, that is a complex mix of initiatives that includes NATO’s consideration to expand eastward in tandem with U.S. plans to keep building a Pacific Union by way of a huge, hazardous free-trade deal called the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
NATO has transformed itself into the world’s “top cop” to support and sustain the free-trade system that “shakes hands” with private international banking and seeks to dictate the foreign and economic policies of nation-states to keep today’s usurious trade-and-monetary system alive and well. Indeed, the alliance could be seen as the multifaceted “merchant marine” of big money.
In contrast, out in the streets, thousands of demonstrators, including a group of U.S. veterans, gathered to protest the summit meeting.
Iraq Veterans Against the War member Aaron Hughes, the leader of the soldiers who threw off their service medals, walked back and forth in front of a line of people holding a wide yellow banner to prepare for the march, in what resembled “marshaling the troops.”
A two- to three-mile march along South Michigan Avenue then commenced. As the march progressed, tension increased as police in regular uniform kept the marchers tightly boxed in, bolstered by hundreds of riot cops.
Veteran Jacob Crawford said, “When they gave me the medals, I knew they were meaningless.”
Another determined ex-soldier vowed: “I’m not fighting for imperialism anymore. I’m fighting against imperialism.”
One soldier denounced Israel’s genocide against the Palestinians, and another dedicated his old medals “to the children of Iraq who don’t have mothers and fathers.”
Emotions ran high. Soon, a trumpet player performed Taps during a teary minute of silence. There was strong solidarity.
Zach LaPorte of Milwaukee added accurately: “Instead of liberating the people, I was liberating their oil fields.”
“War is a racket!” exclaimed another soldier named Richard, quoting Gen. Smedley Butler.
“Our enemies are not 7,000 miles away,” added another veteran, “they sit in our boardrooms. They are CEOs. They are bankers.” He was amplifying the theme that war-backing corporations, colluding with government, represent a clear danger to the nation’s economic well-being.
American Civil Liberties Union observers told AFP that the May 20 march was allowed to last no later than 5 p.m. under city permit. So, police soon began to squeeze everyone out of the intersection—grimly announcing via loudspeaker that they had anti-riot high-decibel sound gear, rubber bullets and water cannons, beyond hundreds of wooden batons, to clear the street corner. They began to advance as AFP’s team managed to get out of the path. The massive crowd made it hard to see what happened next.
Various accounts claim anarchists provoked skirmishes with police at the end of the march, with a few injuries reported. This left many protesters angry, some shouting expletives at police officers. There were about 45 arrests.
But the march succeeded in conveying just who is on the side of peace. If only those presidents, prime ministers and others who comprised the NATO summit would act on an old saying, “When the people lead, the leaders will follow.”
Mark Anderson is the roving editor for AFP. Listen to Mark’s radio show at republicbroadcasting.org, weekdays at 8 p.m. CT. Email him at at firstname.lastname@example.org.