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An Anarchist’s Odyssey to Chicago: Part 1

An Anarchist’s Odyssey to Chicago: Part 1
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Editors note: This is a three part series. Check out part two. part three and see all our stories from the #noNATO actions here.

Brooklyn, New York

Lucas texted me on May 2nd asking if I was going to the NATO Protests in Chicago.  I figured that getting on the road and out of the city for a while would help me clear my head, regardless of the fact that I was to be caravanning with an anarchic hoard of “openly hostile peace freaks,” as H.S. Thompson might’ve described us: resolved on exposing to the masses the realities of war and its consequences for our society’s economic well-being, and probably the latest advances and trends in state-sanctioned police sadism in the process.  It was two birds with one stone with a vacation to Chicago included, so I told Lucas I was down for a road trip into the dark heart of homegrown American Oppression the very next day.

 

Chicago, IL

Friday May 18th 2012

The ride itself on Thursday was uneventful and prolonged due to the lack of internet as well as the frequent stops we took.  I called Rachel, a librarian from the Occupy Chicago Library.  I got in touch with her through my friends from Occupied Stories.  She told me that several live streamers had been preemptively arrested and given various charges of terrorism for having been discovered with equipment for brewing beer, that there were drones in the air, snipers on the buildings, but also that Rohm Emmanuel didn’t want any déjà vu of the Democrat convention of ‘68 since he wants to become president, which was the whole reason why he wanted NATO as well as the rescheduled G8 in Chicago in the first place.  Unsettling as all of this was, it was all still far more expected than Rachel’s news that the Sears Tower had been renamed to Willis Tower since my last visit to Chicago.

We rallied with dozens of other protestors at the intersection of Jackson and La Salle.  I was in a bathroom at a nearby McDonald’s when the march left.  I saw a woman in plain clothes who had been mingling with us walk over to a group of plainclothes police wearing guns and badges, and saw her take off a worn, long sleeve top revealing a badge chained around her neck.  She told the others that we were headed for the rally at Daley Plaza as if they weren’t already aware of where we were going.  I caught up to Lucas at the front of the march, launched off two confetti poppers and started to play a rhythm on my tambourine while we chanted.  I saw a masked protestor dressed in black bloc attire pop off one of my party poppers after I had returned to the march, after throwing out the ones I had just used into a public trash can.  I told him he didn’t ask before he took it.  He lied and told me my friends had said it was OK for him to do so as he handed the tube back to me, as if it was my job to throw it away for him as I walked away from him to catch up to my friends, who almost always can be found at the head of the march.

The Nurse’s Union Rally was pleasant.  We aimlessly mingled with lots of friends from New York who stuck out from all of the nurses dressed in identical red t-shirts with red-feathered, green Robin Hood caps in support of the Robin Hood Tax they were lobbying to place on all Wall Street transactions to pay for things such as healthcare.  I tweeted a few photos to friends back in NYC.  The rally was of course surrounded by Chicago Police, and even well attended by undercover members of their fraternity.  I became curious and started looking at badges when a high ranking officer of some sort in a white shirt asked me what the tubes sticking out of the top of my backpack were.  I probably could’ve avoided talking to him altogether had he not caught me checking out his badge, but I assured him that they were party poppers and not fireworks, just like it said they were on the tube’s red and yellow wrapping paper.  He told me that they weren’t safe, since all of the people at the rally might become startled by them.  He told me I had to get rid of them.  I held out the wrapper of a granola bar that had been given to me, said I had been looking for a trash can but couldn’t find one, probably because the police removed all of them.  He told me that he’d dispose of the party poppers for me, but I told him I’d be perfectly happy to do so myself or just return them to my room.  I walked out of the vicinity of the rally, threw away the granola bar wrapper once I found a trash can, took the party poppers out of my backpack and carried them back into the rally well below eye level of the police, in the blue opaque plastic bags I had bought them in, from the dollar store two blocks from my apartment in Brooklyn.

I grabbed some salad and beans provided from the kitchen when Tom Morello, The Night Watchman who emerged from the ashes of Rage Against the Machine, took the stage to support the union rally just as I saw him do at the May Day Rally in Union Square in NYC.  He was every bit as inspiring as he had been when he’d played at Liberty Plaza/Zuccotti Park the fall of the past year.  I fired off the last of the two party poppers I had brought with me after he had told everyone in the crowd, including the undercover police, to jump the fuck up as he played the censored verses of Woody Guthrie’s original version of “This Land Is Your Land.”  No one near me made a move to arrest me, and one of the nurses suggested that I should just leave the empty tubes on the ground and walk off.  I took her advice.  I found Mikey a moment later. He told me he figured I launched the confetti as we caught up with Lucas and Emillio at the front of the un-permitted march of occupiers, while all of the Union Nurses in red left the permitted rally at Daley plaza on buses.

The march was energetic.  There were so many of us that we had no trouble occupying the streets anywhere we went.  We headed east toward Lake Michigan at some point. I was thrilled at the prospect of marching toward the waters I had grown up in in my hometown of Milwaukee, WI, and possibly shutting down the city of Chicago by occupying a major intersection on Lake Shore Drive in the process of doing so, but alas the Chicago PD had set up a blockade and we marched north through a park and began a loop through the city ultimately back towards Jackson and La Salle.

A former soldier in the Army turned bare-chested protestor had climbed up some ledges on the side of a wall to tear down a banner for the NATO summit, which declared the organization’s goals of world peace.  He tore half the banner apart and was greeted by a swarm of Chicago Police who tried to arrest him after he bolted from the ledge he had been standing upon.  But he kept moving. The police nearly grabbed him, but he was dragged away and un-arrested from the Chicago PD by fellow protestors.  I hadn’t even realized I had been walking alongside him after several dozen of us left a police kettle on a bridge near the spot where he had torn the banner down, since someone had given him a new shirt and cap to wear.  He had cut open his thumb a bit but was otherwise free and clear.  I told him that I saw another officer fall and nearly whack their head on a bridge railing while pulling out a taser.  A friend who had helped un-arrest the guy had a good picture of him tearing down the NATO banner that didn’t reveal his face, which he tweeted out.

We marched back to Jackson and La Salle without much more incident.  A few occupiers mike checked and soap boxed for a while before most of the march moved down toward the Indian and Horse statues near Congress and Michigan.  I met up with Lou, a drummer I march with at OWS from Long Island.  I was bummed he didn’t bring his drum since most of the Chicago Occupiers had trouble keeping a good beat, in my opinion.  Rachel had told me that most of their instruments had unfortunately been confiscated almost as soon as Occupy Chicago had begun.  Lou and I decided to walk past Buckingham Fountain, best known by non-Chicagoans from the TV show Married With Children.  We hung out in front of the lake for a bit. We went off in search of good Chicago pizza after Matt, a live streamer from NYC, joined up with us.  I asked some police who were sitting around Grant Park where they thought we could get the best deep dish pie in the area, and they politely but grudgingly told us we should check out Lou Malnati’s off of State Street, as men with proper Midwestern values ought to.  I asked if we could get a discount if we told the host that they had sent us.  Rest assured everyone was momentarily amused.

 

Saturday May 19th 2012

I decided to go on a solo mission to pay my respects the memorial of the Haymarket Anarchists, which had intentionally been built well outside the city limits of Chicago out of spite not for any of their actions, all of which had been perfectly legitimate, but in an attempt to murder the ideas they embodied with their lives.  I had wanted to see their memorial for some time and figured that this was the best day, given that the NATO summit didn’t officially begin until the next day.

I stopped and bought water and a decent smelling Dominican cigar from a convenience store after I got off the hour and fifteen minute train ride, and just before I began the 1.6 mile walk further outside of Chicago to find the graveyard.  The main cemetery gates were open and I started combing the cemetery, looking for Emma Goldman’s grave in the 80 plus degree sunshine before I found a path to the Haymarket Memorial via a GPS coordinate on my iPhone.  I saw a sign next to a chained entrance that listed visiting hours over at 3:30pm and informed me that trespassers would be prosecuted.  I’m not the sort of anarchist that goes out of his way to find trouble with the law, and I slipped out of that particular cemetery, given that it was going on 5pm, to find the memorial I was searching for at another nearby cemetery.

I recognized the memorial from a distance as soon as I saw it through the fence at the side of Forrest Home Cemetery facing Des Plaines Avenue.  I saw another sign which informed me that visiting hours had already passed.  It never occurred to me to check visiting hours before I left.  My resolve to visit the monument was also fading from walking miles in the hot sun to find the graves.  But the monument was so close, not close enough to touch or take a clear picture, but close enough for me to feel something deep within me being stirred the same way it had been stirred over a decade before, when I had first read the story of these anarchists from history books that those like me never receive credit for reading in school until we get into higher education.  I needed to visit this place in order to know with material certainty that history as I understood it was in fact real before continuing on to wherever the anarchist’s path may take me.  I did not know if or when I’d ever be able to return to this place.  My conscious cringed at the thought of having to return all the way back to Chicago to tell my anarchist friends that I didn’t visit a mass grave of anarchists because I was afraid to break a comparatively minor rule and jump a fence.

The cemetery was completely visible from two main roads and also by two side residential roads due to some predictably strange yet pleasant effect of Midwestern urban planning.  I didn’t see cameras on any of the nearby buildings, but there was tons of traffic around the cemetery and at least two hours left in the day before dark. Yet my resolve had been set and I started pacing up and down Des Plaines Avenue for awhile  before deciding that the main gate was the best spot, since it dipped in from the road only a bit on a short driveway, which would still provide some cover.  I waited with my back to the gate, which I didn’t think would’ve taken me long to clear even without the parkour techniques I had been practicing over the past two months.  I was so intent on watching the roads for the right time to leap over the gate that I didn’t notice the red Toyota of a groundskeeper pull up to the other side of the gate until it was right there.

I introduced myself to the grounds keeper and he told me that he’d give me ten minuets to go see the memorial after I’d explained to him that I had come a long way from New York and waited a long time to visit the spot.  It was somewhat emotional for me to approach this rare monument to anarchy.  It’s a larger than life sculpture of a defiant woman clad in black, majestically defending a fallen male worker on top of a pedestal in front of a large square column adorned with a pyramid.  It’s more than fair to say that the monument would catch the eye and tempt the curiosity of any individual of any age or culture who happened to pass by that spot at Forrest Home cemetery to learn the story of those who rested beneath these timeless stones.  I took photos with my iPhone, cleared my mind as best I could in order to say a few words to mark the occasion, and I left a small offering off tobacco near the monument from the cigar I had brought with me in the tradition of my family’s people.  I made sure I had returned within ten minutes, which wasn’t difficult as the monument wasn’t far from the main entrance.  I thanked the groundskeeper and puffed on my cigar as I made my way back to the train back to Chicago.

I didn’t want to go back to the protests that evening.  I was looking forward to hanging out with John and Nicole that evening, but they had to temporarily leave the streets for the evening due to some heat exhaustion.  I wanted to go to a beach in order to pay my respects to the “Gods” of Lake Michigan who have made me feel welcome in their waters ever since childhood.  I decided to return to the protests, however, once I learned that there was a march breaking through a kettle only two blocks away from the bus station I was waiting at on State Street.

It turned out to be a good march, aside from Jack getting knocked unconscious by a Chicago Police Van driving through the protest.  I caught up with Thorin, who had been helping out the kitchen at the convergence center in between his live streaming, and also Tim, who had moved out of his mom’s house since he and the other streamers were worried about being raided.  His fears were not unfounded, because we learned on Twitter later that night that he had been detained, and cuffed at gunpoint while he Jeff and Luke had been raided late in the night.  I was a bit worried for him at first, but I quickly realized that the incident would only increase the number of people who pay attention to him. I did in fact tweet the following morning that he had reached nearly 10 thousand accounts within 6 minutes of that morning alone, according to tweatreach.com.

- Harrison Schultz -

Editors note: This is a three part series. Check out part two. part three and see all our stories from the #noNATO actions here.

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