As world leaders met in Chicago May 20-21 for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit, thousands of the demonstrators also converged on the city. They collectively and over the course of four days, caused closures to downtown streets, rallied at Daley Plaza and in Grant Park, marched outside of the mayor’s home on the Northwest Side, and picketed outside the headquarters of at least one major corporation and McCormick Place where the summit was held.
But who were the demonstrators and what was their fuss about? For the most part, they opposed war and what they called corporate greed. According to the signs they carried as they marched through downtown, they want to “seize the banks. End 1 percent’s dictatorship.”
Their chants revealed their often peaceful, yet passionate, opposition to NATO. Though, for some, their taunting of police showed how fearless and raucous they could be. They were of all ages and ethnicities and appeared to be from all walks of life.
Many of the protesters were from out of town. But a number of the anti-NATO protesters were young city dwellers who oppose war and don’t support the work of the allied nations.
As the world leaders met at McCormick Place, April Friendly was outside the venue picketing “because I am part of the 99 percent.” The 35-year-old Hyde Park resident said she was expressing herself as she carried her picket sign.
“NATO world leaders are expressing their agenda (as they meet). I’m not for that,” she said.
Nick Howard didn’t have any disguise and he wasn’t carrying a sign. But the 19-year-old Hyde Park resident and the four friends with him shared the concerns of the thousands of other demonstrators in the streets. He opposes war and, all around, does not support NATO’s work.
The civic-minded teen said he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to show his disproval.
“I don’t agree with their (NATO leaders) politics and how they deal with things,” Howard said.
In the months leading up to the meeting of the world’s 28 military allied leaders – hosted for the first time in this country in a city outside of Washington, D.C. – the Chicago City Council passed several measures related to the NATO summit. Among the new and revised city ordinances were ones that called for demonstration groups with a certain number of participants to get a permit from the city. Three organizations secured permits. Other demonstrators held their own protests on the tail end of the other ones.
Andy Thayer organized the Coalition Against NATO/G8 (CANG8) demonstration that also included the Iraq Veterans Against the War. CANG8 said his organization “focused on the violence of NATO.” The veterans ceremoniously gave back their service medals May 20 in opposition to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
“We were awarded these medals for serving in the global war on terror, a war based on lies and failed policies,” according to organizers of Iraq Veterans Against the War.
Other unpermitted protesters created havoc downtown and made up the nearly 100 NATO-related arrests. Some people traveled from each U.S. coast to Chicago as members of the Occupy Movement and other groups, including Black Bloc which has reputation for violent demonstrations. A Black Bloc member told the Chicago Citizen during the May 20 demonstration at Michigan Avenue and Cermak Road that they disguise their faces to protect them from being identified and profiled by police.
The demonstrators opposed NATO but alliance leaders said they were all for the protesters being able to speak out.
“This is part of what NATO defends; free speech and freedom of assembly,” said Obama.
Police were patient and deliberate as they dealt with protesters over the course of four days. They used a full cavalry as part of their policing strategy, with bike patrol, mounted police, officers in riot gear, ranking personnel and canine units out in force. Officers could be seen standing stone-faced as protesters hurled epithets and, in some cases, objects.
Police Supt. Garry McCarthy got choked up at press conference during the summit as he talked about the work of his officers.
“If you think it’s easy to ask people to do what they did, it’s not,” the police chief said.