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NATO Summit protestors have varied interests

Thu, Jun 21, 2012

As leaders of NATO nations convened in Chicago, so did thousands of global activists, calling for their leaders to stand for a more peaceful future.

The Coalition Against NATO/G8 and the Anti Poverty Agenda hosted one of the few permitted rallies during the NATO Summit in Chicago May 20-21. Throughout the weekend global activist groups called for an end to NATO-led military occupations and for more equitable services and employment opportunities within the United States.

The demonstration on Sunday May 20 began in Grant Park with speeches by anti-war leaders such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Protestors then marched south to McCormick Place while carrying signs with statements such as “Healthcare Not Warfare,” “Stop US/NATO Drone Wars,” and “Plz don’t pepper spray us.” Policemen clad in riot gear aligned the march’s path.

Along with signs, groups of protestors led chants like “Show me what democracy looks like, this is what democracy looks like,” and some even encouraged camaraderie with the police chanting, “You’re sexy, you’re cute, take off that riot suit.”

According to the Associated Press, the numbers of demonstrators varied. Police estimated them at 2,200 but organizers say approximately 15,000 came to Chicago to protest NATO.

Vincent Wilmes is a 26-year-old war veteran and philosophy student at Loyola University Chicago. He joined the march to oppose the hindrance eco¬nomic disparity causes for Americans to attain education. “I think that getting education while getting debt is not the way to learn and by virtue of my military service I go to school and I don’t acquire any debt, I actually get refunded money, and I feel that everybody should be able to learn in that manner,” Wilmes said.

Wilmes served on an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf during Operation Enduring Freedom in Iraq. He said the U.S. military is ineffective in rehabilitating soldiers from the trauma of war. “The military separates humanity from the person in order to make them conform… it turns a person into a machine so the person who goes through basic training just gets brainwashed or transformed. What they don’t teach us is how to put the person back into the machine.”

The non-profit organization Veterans for Peace was at the march as part of its mission to lead nonviolent protests against the use of NATO military forces abroad, the high cost of defense spending, and the lack of justice for victims of war and veterans. According to its website, more veterans died from suicide than from combat from 2009 to 2010.

Following the organized march, activists from Afghans for Peace and Veterans for Peace had their first collaborative assembly. Speeches took place on a stage at Cermak and Michigan Avenue, three blocks west and one block north of McCormick Place, where the NATO Summit had convened earlier that day.

Suraia Sahar, a Canadian citizen and daughter of Afghan refugees, spoke on behalf of Afghans for Peace.
“Our taxpayer dollars are being shipped off to wage war on a people who have suffered too much already. The very people who cause us to suffer here are active in oppressing the Afghans, the Iraqis, the Libyans, the Haitians, the Palestinians, just to name a few. My family is paying my own government to help slaughter my own people back home…Afghans have had enough, they are sick and tired of being nameless, faceless beings, sick and tired of being collateral damage of 11 long years of this war with no end in sight.”

Jason Hurd worked as a combat medic for 10 years and took the stage to return his Global War on Terrorism Service Medal. Hurd was one of dozens of veterans who threw back their medals toward NATO leaders meeting at McCormick Place. “I am deeply sorry for the destruction we have caused in those countries and around the globe,” Hurd said. “I am proud to stand on this stage with my fellow veterans and my Afghan sisters.”

Scott Howard served in the United States Marine Corps from 2001 to 2006 and said he was returning his medals for his “brothers and sisters affected with traumatic brain injury, military sexual trauma, and post traumatic stress disorder.”

Veteran Shawna Foster also returned her medal and stated, “I was a nuclear biological chemical specialist for a war that didn’t have any weapons of mass destruction. I deserted along with 40,000 people who left the U.S. Army because this is a lie.”

Others gave back their medals as a symbol of healing. Veteran Michael Applegate said, “I am returning my medal today because I want to live by my consciousness rather than being a prisoner of it.” Iraqi veteran Matt Southbrook stated, “I’m returning my medals today because under the guise of freedom and democracy I stole the humanity of the Iraqi people and lost mine. We are on the right side of history.”

Another anti-war organization at the demonstration was Code Pink, a nationwide women’s group that calls for the reallocation of defense spending toward affordable education, environmental sustainability, and healthcare.

Alli McCracken, 23, came from Washington, D.C. with Code Pink. McCracken said this demonstration was the largest mass mobilization effort she had ever experienced.

“As an anti-war activist watching veterans who have in most cases been manipulated into joining the military because of economic reasons, to see them take a step back and say ‘sorry’ was really amazing,” McCracken said immediately following the assembly.

When the demonstration ended, speakers onstage told protestors to disperse west, away from McCormick Place. However, protestors were pushed toward the police line when the anarchist group, the Black Bloc, obstructed people from moving west and pushed those in between toward the police line. Those in the front of the crowd who were stuck between police forces and the anarchists were the first to face arrest or violence once the demonstration’s protest legally ended.

Anthony (who asked that his last name be withheld), 20, of New York City and a member of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, is not part of the anarchist move¬ment but was one of these people caught in the middle of police during the afternoon protest.

Anthony said police hit his head with a baton as he tried to protect a young girl who was caught in the midst of police violence. He was interviewed Sunday evening in front of the Art Institute where demonstrators mobilized to protest the NATO leaders’ spous¬es’ dinner.

“She was about my age, 20, and she was getting hit really bad and I jumped on top of them and I got hit on the back of my head with a police baton,” Anthony recalled. “There was absolutely no room. They were pushing us and I fell again and then I totally passed out.”

After falling unconscious Anthony received assistance from a medic on the scene and then further treatment at a Chicago hospital. He is no stranger to police brutality: he claims to have a permanent black eye and scars on his wrist from handcuffs from seven arrests by the New York City Police Department during Occupy demonstrations.

Anthony originally joined the move¬ment after months of unemployment. “My whole generation, we don’t know what to do, we’re told that if we work hard and go to school we’ll get a job, but basically I’ve met so many people who have bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and now they’re in debt and can’t find a job, it’s ridiculous, it’s not right,” he said. “We don’t need no more wars, we need to feed our people, we need houses… there is no justice.”

Written by Angela Wells
StreetWise Editorial Intern

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