NATO in Chicago: Thousands Protest War Criminals’ Summit

From Revolution

NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, held its summit this year in Chicago on May 20-21. NATO, the largest military alliance in the world, is dominated by U.S. imperialism. Its 28 countries account for 65 percent of the world’s military spending, the largest being the United States. NATO’s so-called “peacekeeping” is aimed at maintaining a world of Western, especially U.S., imperialist domination over the people of the world, and at blocking any potential great power rivals.

And the fundamental purpose of NATO’s so-called “humanitarianism” is to devote massive weaponry to protect, defend, and extend a system that inflicts great suffering on the vast majority of humanity and enriches a handful—this is the “world order” of capitalism-imperialism. (see “NATO in Chicago May 20-21: War Criminals Summit,” Revolution #269)

This summit was indeed a War Criminals Summit. Thousands of people gathered in Chicago, from all over, to protest these war criminals. And on the other side, for weeks leading up to the summit, and then as the meeting got underway, the state’s forces of repression kicked way into high gear. As people have been chanting in the street: “This is what a police state looks like!” (See “Chicago Gears Up for NATO Summit: This is What a Police State Looks Like,” Revolution #269)

The Occupy movement, antiwar activists, and others worked for months to organize protests and other activities for the days leading up to and during the NATO Summit. Occupy called for 10 Days of Action which began on May 12-13 with the People’s Summit, which included panels and workshops dedicated to the struggle for a better world. The workshops, which Revolution Books and World Can’t Wait participated in, covered a broad range of topics, from “Perspectives on Socialism, Communism, and Anarchism” to “Impacts of Climate Change: From Migration to Our Local Water Supply,” to “NATO and Afghanistan: What’s Wrong with the ‘Good War’?” and many others. The four plenary sessions included Malalai Joya (former member of Afghan parliament and opponent of NATO occupation); Kathy Kelly (Voices for Creative Nonviolence); Mumia Abu-Jamal (via speakerphone); Col. Ann Wright, antiwar activists, and others.

During the week there were protests around education, immigration, housing foreclosures and evictions, the environment, and health care leading up to the Summit.

The week began with a demonstration organized by the Catholic Worker movement. According to a Chicago Tribune report, “Dozens of demonstrators dashed into the Loop building housing President Barack Obama’s campaign headquarters this morning, slipping past security guards and running up escalators as they kicked off what they called a ‘Week Without Capitalism.’ Eight protesters were led out in handcuffs about half an hour later.”

A powerful protest was organized by Code Pink, World Can’t Wait and Vets for Peace against drone attacks and the war in Afghanistan. Protesters carried mock drones and some had signs representing individuals killed in drone attacks. 75-100 people started at Obama’s campaign headquarters and went to the British, Canadian and German consulates. A moving statement was made by an Afghanistani woman from Canada.

On Friday thousands of people rallied at Daley Plaza in a mobilization called by the National Nurses Union demanding the Robin Hood Tax (a tax on financial transactions to offset cuts affecting health care and social services). Hundreds of nurses along with protesters from around the country as well as office workers came together. Tom Morello and Rise Against played an angry rendition of “Ghost of Tom Joad.” That evening World Can’t Wait hosted a program of culture and statements titled, “International Voices for Humanity and the Planet: An Evening of Arts to Oppose NATO.”

On Saturday a multinational crowd of around 1,000 people marched through the downtown area from midday until almost 11 pm. All day there were repeated standoffs with the police. One protester was hospitalized after being hit by a police vehicle and a number of people were brutalized by the police. People went up in the face of the climate of fear created by the authorities.

On Sunday, May 20, approximately 5,000 people poured into the streets of Chicago after rallying in Grant Park. Chanting “N-A-T-O—NATO has got to go!,” rows of veterans marching in formation led the march. The crowd was very diverse, young and old and all nationalities. One of the most prominent banners was HUGE, covering almost four lanes of the street demanding “Free Bradley Manning” (a U.S. soldier arrested and tortured, accused of releasing confidential files, including video footage of a massacre carried out by the U.S. military in Iraq). Stickers about Bradley Manning were everywhere. One very artistic painted banner carried by a contingent of Latino youth showed a skeleton pilot raining bombs with the names of many countries that have been assaulted by NATO forces.

There was a lot of sentiment among people denouncing NATO and their wars—expressed in chants, signs and different banners. People from World Can’t Wait carried a series of banners in languages of NATO countries and those targeted by NATO saying “Humanity and the Planet Comes First.” An Internationalist contingent followed behind the World Can’t Wait contingent with a very large painted banner of the world breaking through chains and the words “Internationalism, The Whole World Comes First” in English and Spanish. Behind this was another, smaller banner that said “Humanity Needs Revolution.”

There was a massive police presence and as the demonstration turned a corner they were met by Illinois State Police lining both sides of the street, all displaying clubs almost the size of baseball bats in front of their chests. At least 10 city buses displaying “Welcome to Chicago” blinking signs were lined up at the ready for any mass arrests.

The Iraq Vets Against the War organized a march of veterans who then threw medals they had received from the military into the street near where NATO was meeting in a dramatic display of defiance. Many dedicated their medals to the children of Afghanistan and Iraq. One vet expressed his apologies to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan for what the U.S. military had done to their countries. Joshua Shephard, who spent six years in the Navy, yelled to the crowd, “These are not mine, they never were. They are instruments of control from this government. I will not continue to trade my humanity for false heroism.” 

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World Can't Wait mobilizes people living in the United States to stand up and stop war on the world, repression and torture carried out by the US government. We take action, regardless of which political party holds power, to expose the crimes of our government, from war crimes to systematic mass incarceration, and to put humanity and the planet first.