Personal Observations from the Chicago March Against the NATO/G8 War & Poverty Agenda
Thank you to all; CANG8 (Coalition Against NATO/G8), UNAC (United National Antiwar Coalition), Occupy Chicago, and all others that made this all rally and march against NATO/G8 possible. There are so many other groups, but I can't list them all here. And thank you to all who participated from seasoned veteran activists to the youth who were exercising their right to direct or participatory democracy for the first time. While so many others labored so long and so hard, my own part was almost infinitesimal. Andy, Joe and Pat of CANG8 were everywhere during the long months of organizing and this great march would have been much the lesser without them.
First and foremost, I'm just glad that I marched. Ashamed to say it, but I almost bailed out at the last minute. I'm recovering from a recent surgery and my instructions are to stay off my feet and not lift anything heavy. So I returned to work Friday and Saturday nights before the march and was on my feet for two ten hour shifts. Then at the rally and march I was on my feet for another eight hours and lifting a particular wheelchair with passenger over a couple of curbs.
Father Jerry Zawada, retired priest, has spent a total of 5 1/2 years in jail for the cause of social justice; saying Mass at a nuclear missile site, crossing the line at the U.S. Army School of the Americas torture and death squad college and more recently bearing witness against the use of drone warfare and the training of intelligence personnel in torture. I'm sure the church hierarchy would rather Father Jerry wile away his time at a friary and stay out of the limelight, but it's hard to keep a good man down. He has had some physical problems and uses a cane or walker to get around. Phil M obtained a wheelchair for the march and we were all set, except with the security on the South Shore train from NW Indiana into Chicago, the train officials could not even guarantee in advance that the wheelchair would be allowed on board during the NATO Summit.
Father Jerry was conveniently visiting a relative nearby and when we invited him to join us for the march he said with a twinkle in his eye, "I've been thinking about this since it was announced last year that it would be in Chicago." And I am sure that this was the reason for his visit.
The fear mongering in the Chicago area was intense. I just saw a newspaper account that South Shore trains on the last day of the summit ran at 23% of the normal number of riders for a Monday. Lakeshore Drive was closed from downtown south for 4 miles, the Kennedy and other expressways were subject to unannounced rolling closures for numerous motorcades, as were many downtown streets and parking, military helicopters in the sky, soldiers and police everywhere on the streets. Businesses and restaurants closed, many boarded up in the South Loop area on the march route. Closed for the beautiful spring weekend were many of the jewels in the crown of Chicago's tourist attractions: Field Museum of Natural History, Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago Cultural Center, Clarke House Museum, Glessner House Museum, National Veterans Art Museum. Closed: Lakefront bike trails and all harbors and boating anywhere near the summit. Also any private plane that might stray within 10 nautical miles of McCormick Place was subject to being shot down. All so the warmongers from NATO could feel safe inside the armed fortress that the McCormick Place Convention Center became.
At 1AM Thursday morning, three days before the march on the 20th, police raided the apartment home of Occupy Chicago activists in the Bridgeport Neighborhood of Chicago. They detained 9 activists originally and ended up charging three young men with terrorism charges for allegedly planning terrorist attacks against Obama's campaign headquarters, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's house and police stations. The three charged are Brian Church, 20, of Florida, Brent Betterly of Florida and Jared Chase of New Hampshire. Police have said that they also found 4 completed Molotov cocktails. Attorneys for the NATO 3 have said the confiscated items were home beer making equipment. Police said that two undercover informants had witnessed the planning of the attacks. Two other Chicago residents Sebastian Senakiewicz, 24, and Mark Neiweem, 28 were charged with separate terrorism charges days later for allegedly planning to make or use Molotov cocktails.
The NATO 3 were the same three individuals who had released a You Tube video of Chicago police stopping their car and threatening them by saying "You guys know all about '68." "What did they say back in '68?" "Billy club to the f***king skull..."OK, now we'll beat your white ass." Then later more from the police "Wait for the protest day. Save it all. Save it up for that." One of the stopped young men replies "We'll see you at NATO." Police reply "Can't wait. We'll come look for you, each and every one of you."
Preemptive police raids and trumped up charges are exactly what happened in the Twin Cities before the Republican National Convention in 2008. Terrorism charges were filed against 8 young men and women (RNC 8) who were planning to protest the convention. Two years later the terrorism charges were dropped and eventually three were completely exonerated and the other five accepted plea deals down to a misdemeanor. For two years though, eight young men and women had arrayed against them all the power of the state with bogus charges of terrorism.
"Will the Chicago Police Department be using agent provocateurs, police dressed up as Black Block anarchists, like we've seen in other large demonstrations across the country?" a question to Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy in the lead up to the NATO summit. His incredible response, "What?" "I don't know what you're talking about." Either the Superintendent of Police in the nation's third largest city is a complete ignoramus with regard to a commonly used tactic by law enforcement at all levels since the COINTELPRO program of the Vietnam era or he is just a flat out liar. It was this same tactic of agent provocateur that led to the arrest of the NATO 3.
Yet the same Superintendent McCarthy has been lionized by the press as some sort of a hero at the NATO summit protests.
Do I have any idea of the guilt or innocence of the NATO 3, now the NATO 5? No, I have no direct knowledge. What I do know is that bringing the entire weight of the City, State and U.S. government against these 5 individuals is a very serious matter. The power is there to make their lives living hell and do everything possible to pressure them individually to testify against their companions in return for a lighter sentence or dropped charges. Whether or not such testimony is an honest representation of the facts has historically been of little concern to the state. These types of prosecution do not seek justice. They are just power run amok.
Where is our "justice" system when it comes to holding President Bush and his cronies accountable for lying to the American people to take us into an illegal war in Iraq? Or ignoring the Constitution, U.N. Charter and taking us into war in Afghanistan illegally when the Taliban had offered to turn over Osama bin Laden upon receipt of proof that he was in fact responsible for the 9/11 attacks? More than a million dead; this is some real crime deserving of prosecution.
President Obama took us to war illegally in Libya without so much as even consulting the people he ostensibly represents. He just announced it. What he forgot to announce was that those rising against the terrible dictator Muammar Gaddafi had been groomed to do so by the CIA. That many of the brave patriots we were supporting in Libya were al Qaeda and had fought against our own troops in Iraq. He also neglected to tell the American people that this terrible dictator had taken Libya from the poorest country in the world to the highest standard of living in Africa, 100% free healthcare, free education, including university and graduate school and full equality for Libyan women, unheard of in the Muslim world and in the U.S. for that matter. That newlywed couples in Libya under Gaddafi received a free $50,000 grant for housing from their government. Perhaps if the American people had known this, there would have been a line forming of unemployed, uninsured, homeless American immigrants to Libya, instead of Obama's bombs. Holding President Obama responsible for the disaster that Libya has become, that would be justice!
These raids and charges cast a pall over ordinary citizens wanting to protest. The CANG8 and other organizers had been working for months and months to bring off a family friendly protest in which children would be welcome. People were then confronted with constant talk of Molotov cocktails and terrorists. Anyone concerned at all for their personal safety or that of family members, would now have a hard time making the decision to march.
We were told that we couldn't bring food, water, signs or anything else that couldn't fit in a 15"x15"x4" bag on the commuter trains and that all trains would be subject to unexpected delays. Like many others I got a small bag and put in 4 empty plastic water bottles to fill after arriving at the train station, only to be told that empty bottles were not allowed. I was told on the phone that I could not take my megaphone and large Veterans For Peace flag and pole. Bob H came up with the solution and brought the flag and pole up on his bicycle. We would have to buy water at the train station, except everything at the Chicago station was closed when we got there and we just went straight to Grant Park for the starting rally. Kathy S brought her indomitable spirit, so it was Father Jerry with Phil pushing the wheelchair, Kathy, myself and Mike P and Bob H who we would meet up with at the rally.
The first person to greet us at Grant Park was none other than Sue E who was serving as a Peace Guide. She gave us a bottle of water. Not long after that I saw Carl W and he gave me another bottle. We saw Jim, Jose, Mike W, Bernie, Nina, Anthony. We all kept running into friends from other marches and actions and also kept getting separated. I even met David Swanson of WarIsACrime.org in person. We have talked on the phone and email over the years, but this was my first chance to shake hands with a man I greatly respect.
A reporter from the Northwest Indiana Times was doing a story on the march and he rode the train with us. On Friday the NWI Times had run my letter inviting all to the march:
March on NATO/G8 at noon Sunday in Loop's Grant Park
"Region residents among the thousands who protest NATO in Chicago"
This is the NWI Times story on the march. There was a picture of Vince and some of the other vets after throwing their medals over the fence
Father Jerry, a Catholic priest, and yours truly, an atheist, were in full agreement that Grant Park on May 20, 2012 was a spiritual place. Young and old, veterans of decades of activism for peace and social justice and newcomers alike had convened in Chicago to show that "Another world is possible; peaceful, equitable and sustainable."
Seeds of Peace Collective had set up a kitchen in the park to feed the massive gathering. It was free and they did take donations, but in an extremely laid back and no pressure way. Tortillas, rice, beans and veggies--quite tasty.
Seeds of Peace Collective--supporting nonviolent direct action since 1986
"This is Solidarity, NOT charity."
Thank you Seeds of Peace!
I had gone with the intention of marching with the veterans and throwing my good conduct medal after the IVAW vets had done so. It didn't work out. My experiences were from a previous war against poor people of color (Vietnam) so I was planning on doing it after the Iraq and Afghan vets had their ceremony. I had run it by a couple of the IVAW troops I know and they were all for it.
For some reason the vets groups had decided that the large Veterans For Peace flags had to be further back in the march. I think there were about 10-15 at the march. So I could have marched with VFP right behind IVAW, but I wouldn't have been able to unfurl my flag. Since my friend Bob was bicycling it up from Indiana and since I love to march with that flag, I decided to march further back with my VFP flag and the Bradley Manning contingent along with many other VFP members.
Mike and I took Father Jerry for a final pit stop. The porta potties were near the Bradley Manning tent and everyone was falling out to march. There was a large 10 foot high Bradley Manning banner and no one to carry it. Mike got Father Jerry and the wheelchair and I got John, a young man from South Africa to help me carry the banner "Free Bradley Manning!". So much for marching with the VFP flag. Bob ended up walking his bike with the flag unfurled and attached to it. John and I struggled the whole 2 1/2 to 3 mile route of the march with the banner on a very windy day in the Windy City. The banner held for the duration, just as that brave young man has against all odds.
We marched south on Michigan Avenue till the march stopped at its endpoint Cermak Road (22nd Street). I was still a couple of blocks north of Cermak and had long since been separated from the friends I came with. I wanted to get closer to the veterans ceremony and couldn't because we were all packed in so tight. There were speakers set up at the intersection one block north of Cermak, but most of those in the march were probably unable to hear the ceremony.
The police estimated the crowd at 2,000-2,500. March organizers took a physical count at an intersection halfway through the march and released a figure of 15,000.
I got on the sidewalk outside the police barricades on the curb and was able to get closer to the flatbed trailer being used as a makeshift stage, maybe 100 yards or so, but on the other side of the street. I missed hearing the young Afghan women speak, but got to see and hear the Iraq and Afghan vets help to reclaim their humanity by renouncing war and violence and throwing their medals over one of many security fences protecting the NATO delegates from the people they claim to represent. I won't single out any of the comments by the vets 40-50 vets that pitched their medals, because they all were so heartfelt and moving.
http://www.democracynow.org/2012/5/21/no_nato_no_war_us_veterans Democracy Now: Veterans return medals
The vets ceremony was done. At this point there was no way to get to the area where the vets had thrown their medals away and I had no trouble reaching the decision that this was their ceremony and me running up at the last minute would detract from what they had done. Perhaps, another time and place for my medal. There was a young woman of Afghan heritage from Canada speaking and I decided to head back and catch my train and I listened to her as I made my way north and was out of earshot. I think it was just after 4PM. I had heard from the friends I came with and they were all on their way home. I had worked two ten hour shifts on my feet (I tend bar two nights a week) and the rally, march and 90 degree heat had left me with a mild case of heat exhaustion. All with doctor's orders to stay off my feet as much as possible. Heading north on Michigan Avenue, I could see large numbers of police marching, jogging, riding in busses, vans etc; all heading south toward the departing rally. The police in Chicago, as a normal procedure, line our parade routes and then move ahead after we have passed and again take up new positions farther down the route. I just thought it was more of the same. I did make a point to yell out to these policemen that we as peaceful demonstrators did not need their services, but there were plenty of war criminals at the NATO conference, if they wanted to enforce the law.
It never occurred to me that Chicago's self proclaimed finest in a few minutes would be whaling away with their clubs on peaceful people whose permit time had expired and were having trouble leaving the "kettle". I had attended many of the planning meetings for the march, had been on the email list and had taken part in many conference calls and I had no idea that the permit expired at 4PM and that there was some sort of an urgent need for the Chicago police department to immediately clear the area of all citizens who are disgusted with the criminality of the U.S. led NATO/G8 war and poverty agenda.
Another personal observation that didn't come to me until a day or two after the march; I can't remember seeing any police on the sidewalks of Michigan Avenue or on the street for at least the first block north of Cermak Road. There was a constant presence of police during the whole march. Yet when the march was over we were "kettled" into an area between the buildings lining both sides of the street with no police presence here at all. This had to be an intentional strategy. Or maybe there were some there and I just didn't see or remember seeing them.
From the best I can gather after the fact, the dispersal route was Cermak Road to the west toward public transportation. At some point after I left, Michigan Avenue northbound was closed to protesters that simply wanted to retrace their steps and walk back to Grant Park, the downtown area, train stations etc. This must have happened just after I left. I believe it was finally opened with a narrow escape route. There was no reason to do this other than to "kettle" protesters together without an exit. If I was not cognizant of an expiration time and the need to promptly disperse and I had been involved in numerous planning meetings etc, how can one expect the huge crowd to be aware of this need for the City of Chicago to immediately rid itself of peaceful citizens bearing witness to war, mankind's supreme crime?
The terrifying LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device) had been brought in after I left. It has the power to break eardrums and had already been deployed against peaceful protesters against the G20 in Pittsburg a few years ago. In Chicago it was just used to issue orders to disperse. However, many who were there said they did not hear the orders to disperse.
I was not in the Logistics Working Group that would have been involved with the permit expiration time. I have no doubt that it was probably mentioned to me many times. My focus was always on how we could educate the public on the crimes of the NATO/G8 war and poverty agenda. Most of the meetings I attended were largely taken up with the struggle to just get the permits and not let the City change them as they did from a much more visible Daley Plaza to a more out of sight Grant Park.
From what I gather after I left the vets on stage and the organizers did announce that the program was over and ask people to exit via Cermak Road to the west. But again many in the crowd could not hear this and for those that could hear and chose to leave only a very narrow egress was allowed. To blame the protesters for not dispersing, is to blame the victims for the crime. If the police wanted to bash the heads of some real criminals, McCormick Place was full of them. Of course the police were first assaulted by the crowd throwing plastic water bottles at them. It was 90 degrees and probably most of those assembled were suffering from the heat to some degree. So the plastic bottles had to be empty. I'm sure that the Chicago police and others brought in from across the country were in mortal danger from an empty plastic water bottle penetrating their Star Wars/Ninja Turtles full riot gear.
On May 19th, the day before the Chicago NATO/G8 protest, 20,000 Blockupy protesters marched to the European Central Bank in Frankfort, Germany and blocked access to it; protesting the austerity that the 1% capitalist class has been dishing out to the poor and working class across the globe. How did the Frankfort police react to this? They took their helmets off and escorted the protesters to the bank. They didn't join the protest, but this simple act of removing their helmets made a powerful statement that there would be no police violence on innocent people and that there was a degree of solidarity between the police and those protesting the 1%'s austerity agenda.
German police take off their helmets and escort 20,000 Blockupy protesters at European Central Bank Blockupy
This simple gesture by Frankfort police is the first crack in the domination of the 1% capitalist class. This is an invitation to police and military service members everywhere to show similar solidarity with the 99%. Off with the hats, helmets and march in solidarity with the 99/%! The entire scheme of bank cartel/corporate rule rests solely on the blind obedience of police and military support. When the police and military start to realize that their duty is to "serve and protect" the 99% and not the criminal capitalist class, then:
Another World Is Possible; Peaceful, Equitable and Sustainable!
Nick Egnatz is a Vietnam veteran. He has been actively protesting our government’s crimes of empire in both person and print for some years now and was named “Citizen of the Year” for Northwest Indiana in 2006 for his peace activism by the National Association of Social Workers.
Contact Nick OccupyNick@yahoo.com