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NATO Activists Speak: They Planned the Summits Before Wisconsin, Before Tahrir, Before Occupy ...
By Yana Kunichoff, Truthout | Interview
The coming NATO summit and its protest counterpart in Chicago is full of symbolism: the stand-off between the 1 percent and the 99 percent in a city where that division is becoming ever more clear. But it's also been full of on-the-ground organizing to bring out communities of color, arguments around the role of the Democratic Party and (still ongoing) legal battles for permits to march within sight and sound of the summit.
Truthout sat down with Andy Thayer and Joe Iosbaker, two organizers who have been up to their elbows in press releases, meetings and messaging since it was announced that Chicago would be hosting the summit, to ask them why they will be protesting NATO.
Thayer was dubbed "the protest king" by NBC Chicago and his attempts to get protest permits over the years and acting as a gay rights and anti-war activist have taken him into court against the city about 18 times.
Meanwhile, Iosbaker has also dealt with legal issues related to his political action. In the fall of 2010, he was one of several anti-war activists in the Midwest whose homes were raided by the FBI on suspicion of working with groups in Colombia and the Middle East.
Together, they've placed themselves in the thick of organizing against the coming NATO summits in Chicago. Truthout sat down with them after one of their organizing meetings for CANG8, a coalition of groups and individuals against the summit. In this conversation, the organizers discuss how NATO has impacted organizing in Chicago, why the left is abandoning the Democrats and what Chicago's 1 percent just didn't see coming.
Yana Kunichoff: Why are you protesting the NATO summits?
Andy Thayer: NATO is, in the words of Dr. King, the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today and that to me is the first thing that you have to bear in mind with NATO. It's NATO's war in Afghanistan, the longest ever war in American history and it is NATO countries that are doing the done strikes in Yemen which have now reached the same awful level as in Pakistan. NATO is responsible for 70% of world military expenditure. Any number of other issues that we might be involved in, or other people might be involved in, are directly impacted by that. I mean, we live in a city that has had half of its mental health clinics closed. We live in a city that has had its public transit system reduced a couple of years ago. We live in a city where the student-teacher ratios are not what they should be, where there is a $700 million budget deficit looming for 2013 just in the Department of Education here. And so all of these issues that are seemingly disparate are very much connected with NATO.
I think this is why we have been very successful in getting people from other movements involved in this protests against NATO and its wars because, for example, when Occupy first started out it was dealing very narrowly with economic issues. But you can't have a situation when homes are foreclosed and expect to deal with it when you have 60% of the federal budget going to military.
The good thing about the protest about NATO is that it's finally bringing together "separate movements." Back in the 60's and early 70's, all these movements were considered part and parcel of one general struggle of the 99% against the 1%. And I'm really happy to see Palestinian activists working with environmentalist working with LGBTQ folks. If we're going to just talk about why to protest against NATO we could be here all day.
Joe Iosbaker: I agree with everything that Andy said. My general view of NATO is that NATO is an extension of U.S. foreign policy. You know, we live in the heart of an Empire. I remember when September 11 happened and there were so many people in this country who were shocked that there was anger at America from countries that had suffered either our direct rule or allies of ours, like you know, Israel's occupation of Palestine. The United States, without NATO originally although they now are involved in it, went into Iraq where over the course of a decade, over a million Iraqis lost their lives directly as a result of the war and occupation. The U.S. and NATO have attacked Libya, we are still threatening Syria, we have bombed Somalia in addition to Yemen and Pakistan, we have special forces inside of Syria ... We have, I've lost count, 40 or 50 or 60 [military] bases. We have troops in Africa for the time ever, in Uganda, and we are threatening several other countries in Central Africa. And that's just what we have done in the last decade.
If you go back to the 1960's and 50's or before the Unites States has had one intervention and bloody war or another against the people of the poor countries of the world for over a century. You ask why do we protest NATO, well those of us who've realized this, we have a responsibility to speak out. That NATO and the G8; who most people in Chicago have never even heard of, have now become topics of dinner table conversations means we have an opportunity and it's thrilling to be organizing the coalition that we have. That includes community groups, that includes, you know, anti-war groups, that includes Occupy, that includes the unions. It's a tremendous opportunity, it's a historic opportunity. It's going to be a historic protest.