President Barack Obama closed out the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Chicago Monday afternoon declaring that the two-day summit’s objectives had been met.
Sunday the meeting of allied world leaders opened at the McCormick Place with an agenda that included talks of post-war Afghanistan, solidifying relations with other pro-NATO nations and advancing the more than 60 year old organization into the new millennium.
“I think the bottom line is that we are leaving Chicago with a NATO alliance that is stronger, more capable and more ready for the future. As a result, each of our nations — the United States included — is more secure, and we’re in a stronger position to advance the security and prosperity and freedom that we seek around the world,” the president said at a press conference at the close of the summit.
He revealed that he was not oblivious to the transportation havoc the summit created near the site of the summit and added that the protesters who faced off with the Chicago police for the last four days were simply exercising their First Amendment rights.
The president praised Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the city as a whole for performing “wonderfully.” He offered special props to the police.
“The Chicago police, Chicago’s finest, did a great job under some significant pressure and a lot of scrutiny,” said Obama.
The NATO summit put Chicago in the world spotlight. It was the first time that a U.S. city other than Washington, D.C. had hosted the event. The city had been preparing for a year for the summit which brought world leaders from 28 ally nations, thousands of foreign journalists, a host of support personnel and security measures that some initially feared would make the city feel like a military occupied zone.
Security measures were extraordinary with barricades of iron fences and cement blocks encircling some streets and property — including an up to three block perimeter of McCormick Place, and police and other law enforcement personnel on patrol throughout downtown and in the South and West loop areas.
“We’ve been training, planning, equipping, strategizing for almost a year,” said Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy days before the summit started.
Bus reroutes faced additional impromptu reroutes throughout the weekend as protesters demonstrated without clear directions of where they were going, shutting down pockets of downtown streets at different times from Friday through Monday, from Michigan Avenue to LaSalle Street.
“The only other thing I’ll say about this is thank you to everybody who endured the traffic situation. Obviously, Chicago residents who had difficulties getting home or getting to work or what have you — that’s, what can I tell you, that’s part of the price of being a world city,” Obama said Monday.
The city expected protests which is why the City Council approved measures earlier this year that required would-be NATO demonstrators to obtain a permit from the city to march. Also, park hours were changed and scofflaw fines increased in anticipation of the event.
Three groups got permits from the city to protest and held peaceful demonstrations downtown. Organizers of Nurses United brought their message of “heal the world” and their disdain for corporate greed to Daley Plaza last Thursday for a demonstration that featured nurses and other supporters dressed in Robin Hood costumes, symbolizing how the rich and Wall Street corporations and investors should be taxed to help care for the nation’s poor and underprivileged.
Sunday’s combined groups that included Andy Thayer’s Coalition Against the NATO/G8 War and Poverty Agenda (CANG8) and Veterans Against the War drew thousands of demonstrators who rallied downtown and outside of McCormick Place. The demonstration was peaceful.
But following each of the permitted demonstrations, protesters from Occupy movements from around the country ended up in square offs with police that led to some violence and several arrests. Occupiers wore bandanas, masks and other disguises that covered their face at least from eyes to chin. Several of them told the Chicago Citizen the cover was to protect their identity from police.
McCarthy vowed “to protect people’s First Amendment right to free speech while at the same time providing for the public safety.” Police in riot gear held the line against protesters who seemed bent on violent demonstrations. Security experts and even Obama praised the police for their work throughout the summit.
The president took the demonstrations in stride, especially since none of them affected leaders’ work inside of McCormick Place.
“I think with respect to the protesters … this is part of what NATO defends, is free speech and the freedom of assembly,” said the president.
“If you think it’s easy to ask people to do what they did, it’s not,” McCarthy said about the police, choking up at a press conference Sunday night. That night 45 people were arrested, an officer was stabbed and at least three protesters had to be taken to the hospital. No injuries were reported life threatening.
By Rhonda Gillespie