Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, addressing the Anti-NATO rally at Grant Park in Chicago on May 20, 2012. 20,000 later marched to Michigan and 21st in opposition imperialist war and repression. (Photo: Ife Afriye), a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Thousands Rally and March in Chicago Against NATO Despite State Repression
Dozens of speakers represent people’s movement in the U.S. and internationally
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Chicago was the scene of an historic outpouring of activism and indignation on May 20, when at least 15,000-20,000 people rallied and marched in opposition to the imperialist war policies of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). This manifestation took place in defiance of the state and ruling class intimidation that was engineered by the city administration and the corporate media at the aegis of the White House and the Pentagon.
For weeks the local and national pro-business and military-friendly media had been inundated with reports of possible street violence and mass arrests in a failed attempt to discourage people from coming to Chicago for a series of activities that began on the weekend of May 12-13 with a People’s Summit. The week witnessed numerous demonstrations in support of immigrant and worker’s rights and in defense of the “constitutionally-protected” ability to speak freely and congregate.
During the middle of the week, the home of a local activist in Bridgeport was raided by law-enforcement where three youth were beaten, arrested and charged with outrageously trumped-up charges of “terrorism.” The activists were essentially disappeared until attorneys located them in a lock-up shackled as if they were dangerous criminals.
Of course the corporate media played its part by constantly repeating without question the bogus charges of operating a petrol bomb-making factory and planning attacks against the campaign headquarters of President Barack Obama, local police stations and other targets. When a demonstration took place against repression on May 19, police rammed bicycles and a vehicle into a crowd of several hundred activists in downtown Chicago.
Chicago resembled an armed camp on May 19 just one day prior to the large rally and march. On nearly every street corner in the Loop, gangs of local Chicago police, Federal Protective Services officers, Cook County cops and FBI agents stood looking as if they were prepared to do battle against anyone who appeared to challenge their authority.
Rally and March Was a Significant Victory
On May 20 in the 90 degree heat people began to gather at Grant Park as early as 10:00 a.m. for the scheduled Noon rally. Numerous organizations had set up literature tables and people mingled freely talking politics and engaging in spontaneous cultural presentations.
At Noon the rally began which featured over 40 speakers from various political and organizational affiliations. Representatives from immigrant rights, labor, civil rights, Black Liberation, Palestinian, peace, international solidarity, housing, women’s, environmental, Filipino and other struggles. Speakers at the rally included Larry Holmes of Workers World Party and the Occupy4Jobs Coalition, Joe Iosbaker of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, Stan Willis of the National Conference of Black Lawyers, Kathy Kelly of the Voices for Creative Non-Violence, Carlos Montes, the longtime Chicano and international solidarity organizer who is currently fighting a frame-up in California, Joe Lumbardo of the United National Anti-War Coalition, Rev. Jesse Jackson of the Rainbow/Push Coalition, representatives of the Iraq Veterans Against the War, as well as others.
Before 2:00 p.m. people began to move into the streets outside the park in preparation for the march. Perhaps one of the most energetic sections of the demonstration was the anti-imperialist contingent that was composed of Bayan USA, the International League of People’s Struggle (ILPS), Workers World Party, the International Action Center, the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI), the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shut-offs and Solidarity Iran (SI) which was positioned next to the Palestinian solidarity delegation that carried the flag of the occupied territory.
The march brought together a broad coalition of forces who work on issues related to police brutality, the environment, anti-foreclosure defense, Palestine solidarity, healthcare and other important causes. The National Nurses United joined the march after speaking at the Grant Park rally.
On May 18, several thousand nurses had rallied linking the military budget and the profit-making of Wall Street with the lack of healthcare coverage in the U.S. Chicago Action Medical worked on a volunteer basis to look after people on the three mile march.
All along the route of the march Chicago police, Cook County sheriff deputies, Illinois state police, FBI agents, secret service and other law-enforcement groups lined the sidewalks. At certain points the police were dressed in riot gear with batons.
Many cops were seen openly videotaping the demonstrators. Many people on the sidewalks joined in with the march or cheered it on.
Police Attack Demonstration After Crowd Began to Disperse
When the march reached Michigan Avenue and 21st street many people began to leave to head back to their cars and buses on the trains. The Iraq Veterans Against the War began their own rally when they symbolically gave back the medals awarded them by the military for service in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
This act of rejection and defiance was reminiscent of similar actions carried out by the Veteran Veterans Against the War in Washington D.C. during April 1971. Many soldiers felt betrayed by the U.S. government and the generals for misleading them into military service which was designed for the benefit of the ruling class.
It was at this point that police moved in and began to attack the remaining people. Buses were brought in filled with cops who provided reinforcement to those on the streets.
The attacks on the demonstrators were unprovoked. People were surrounded, beaten down and dragged around in the streets. Dozens were detained and some were taken into custody.
Activists camped outside police stations all night to wait for word on the fate of their friends and comrades. Several people were beaten bloody by the cops who were itching to carry out violence on the heavily youthful protesters.
On the following day, May 21, there was another demonstration held outside the Boeing defense company for their role in building the war machine and not paying taxes on their profits. The U.S. defense budget now exceeds that of all other countries combined, some $US 800 billion, which could be utilized to provide housing, healthcare, education and other essential services for workers, youth and the oppressed.