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In the Middle and In Between: A NATO Retrospective

Editor’s note: This story is part of our coverage of the #noNATO protests in Chicago.

Chicago, IL–It’s quieter than you might expect.  I’m in the middle of a crowd of NATO protesters, and nothing is happening.

Not “nothing,” exactly.  We are marching, though it may be more accurate to describe it as trudging.  (To trudge: the slow, weary, depressing yet determined walk of a person who has nothing left in life except the impulse to simply soldier on.)

Hours earlier, we marched this route in reverse, in much larger numbers.  There was chanting and singing.  Bullhorns blasted our messages to curious residents and concealed snipers on high rises lining South Michigan Avenue.  Signs waved, flags flew.

In an hour-long ceremony, veterans of the misnomered War on Terror threw their medals back toward the leaders who made unilateral decisions that ended in needless loss of life.  The crowd alternately cheered and hushed in sympathy with the brave men and women standing up for their beliefs.  It was impossible to witness without being moved.

Even the violence was quieter than you might expect, at least from where I stood, slightly removed.  I could judge what happened by the injured being pulled from the epicenter.  Street medics tended to head wounds, carefully and methodically checking for evidence of leaking spinal fluid.  Their calm demeanors belied an underlying sense of urgency.  Hundreds of riot police stood behind the makeshift triage unit, silent in their all-black body armor, batons ready to inflict more pain if deemed necessary.

No Imperial March played in the hot sticky air as the Stormtroopers moved in to begin clearing the intersection.  With the exception of some shouted commands and a periodic dispersal order broadcast via LRAD, they simply pressed forward, forcing us back.  Their eyes stared through us from behind sealed visors as if we were not real, or as if they were not fully present in the moment.

A photographer took pictures of me filming the scene, streaming it live to the Internet.  We exchanged pleasantries and credentials.  The police line pressed ever closer.  If this were a movie, there would be a melodramatic soundtrack accompanying our slow retreat down Cermak.  Instead we moved through a sea of silent tension almost worse than the implied force itself.

We played cat-and-mouse games with columns of riot cops all afternoon.  They tried to contain us and direct our movements; we tried to outmaneuver them and get to the convention center.  We succeeded, making it to the eight-foot metal barricades three times only to be threatened by the Special Forces guarding the dignitaries meeting beyond.  I did a stand-up TV interview at one barricade, telling the reporter that our goal was to be seen and heard by those inside the summit.  I was only seen and heard by the soldier who cut the interview short, barking a command to leave the secured area immediately.

Now, hours wearier and sweatier, we have finally gotten ahead of the riot cop formations long enough to head north, back toward downtown.  It’s a four-mile trek and we have been marching all day in 90 degree heat.  There is no energy left for chanting; signs have mostly been discarded.  We just put one foot in front of the other, advancing our small offshoot protest march and its ever-present bike cop escort.

It’s about to get loud again as we meet up with the other marches downtown.  We’re about to stop traffic and close down Michigan Avenue.  We’re about to sit outside a dinner being held at the Art Institute for the NATO spouses, demanding to know why we weren’t invited to join them.  More people are about to get hurt, including my friend Harrison, who will be hit over the head by an overzealous baton for the crime of playing his tambourine in the street.  We’re about to end the night with a dance party in the rain, followed by another five-mile march to the jail where they took our friends.

But now, right now, all is quiet.  The sun is setting spectacularly over the skyline and we are blocking four lanes of traffic, winding our way back to the heart of the city.

This is the part that never makes it to the movie, or the textbook – how the protesters get back home.  These are the spaces in the middle and in between that automatically hit the cutting room floor.  This is supposedly the least interesting part of the day.

And yet it is also the most human.  After all, the media loves to paint a caricature of us in opposition with the stiffly regimented forces of law and order.  They look for the loud, flashy moments and show them in eight-second clips devoid of context.  But we are human.  We get hungry; we look for a bathroom.  We get sweaty and tired and thirsty.  If you hit us with a baton, we will bleed – human blood, not protester blood.  Yet we press on, because we feel righteous anger and indignation.  We eschew personal comfort in order to amplify our message and champion our ideals.  We shout our dissent from the pavement to the rooftops, and it echoes back to us through the concrete canyons that have been abandoned by all but the most dedicated this weekend.

This is the hardest part of the protest, when we are tired and alone and one blister away from giving up and finding a train that’s still running.  This is the part when I wonder if we made any kind of difference at all.  This is when reality sets in, that we face a long road ahead with no express route to the finish line.  We will put in the hard work, one step at a time, one day at a time.  I have friends by my side and more waiting ahead.  This isn’t the end; it’s just the first in a series of memorable adventures.

This is the part that nobody sees but me.  This is the true measure of my convictions, because to me it’s not a long, arduous journey back.  I enjoy every sweaty, bloody step of the way.

– Rachel Allshiny –

Photo courtesy of Kelly Hayes

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Jail Solidarity, Part Three

Editors note: This was originally posted on Diatribe Media. It is the last of a three-part series; read Part One and Part Two.

Chicago, IL–My gentle friend was returned to state custody even as I willed otherwise. Three days later, my Occupy Chicago brothers and I sat on cold stone benches, watching families visit their fathers for the hallmark holiday. We drove to visit our comrade together because that’s what families do. It was a hot Sunday, and I had finally entered the waiting area after being reminded my tank top was not welcome and I had to cover my body in a tee-shirt. At our comrade’s cellblock division, the guards did not perform the vigorous pat-down we found in other sections, even though they’re all part of the same Cook County system. In this division, number 6, my brothers and I simply dumped our nearly-empty pockets into bins and walked through metal detectors. At this entry point, the guards didn’t slap my breasts around, for which I was grateful. The last time I tried to visit my comrades and forced to consent to the state touching my body, my tits ached for days. Even though female guards were the ones searching my delicate skin for weapons, drugs, or maybe cigarettes, they still used the backs of their hands while I stood stock-still, rooted to the ground, choking on rage.After turning in our identification and while waiting for our background checks to clear, we sat on chilly marble benches, no phones or cigarettes to pass the endless time. We had hoped to also visit one of the NATO5 political prisoners that day, but it was looking unlikely we’d even see our solidaritécomrade.

One side of the cavernous waiting room boasted lockers, above which a sign reading “Visitor Lockers” was posted. Across the room, another sign read “Gun Lockers”. One of my brothers remarked it was like a high school football scoreboard: home versus visitors. He was right. They have guns. We have car keys and chapstick, our cellphones locked in my car. It’s truly an unfair fight and we are on their turf. Occupy Chicago’s lawyer told us recently that we were fighting an information insurrection. At that moment, we were defenseless. We could only compile mental notes.

Theoretically for aesthetics, tiny windows were cut in to the towering, multistory beige walls, making the square panels into block-shaped cartoon faces, with thin straight lines for mouths. I imagined them whispering to each other, reporting the sadness they had collected from the day after visiting hours were over. The energy was oppressive, depressive. At times, I could barely breathe with the weight of it all. I was waiting on the state, watching the minutes tick down as I gave them my coerced consent to check my background for warrants, forced permission for them to learn my name and address so I could offer some comfort to a fellow activist who had committed no crime. I would lean my head on my nearest brother’s shoulder, seeking reassurance that being locked in this bastard cop nest was the right direct action to take. Realizing the entire situation’s gravity, my brothers and I reached consensus that we would appear as boisterous and happy as humanly possible when we speaking with our comrade. We were all uncomfortable with Cook County’s chill, the process, and the environment and we’d only been there a few hours. Unlike our comrade, we could leave. His cold concrete cell was not our home. We were just the visiting team.

The guards would bark at the guests, uncaring they were addressing humans, with earnest need to see their dearests. Looking around, the floor in the waiting area was covered in food scraps and garbage. The restrooms had no toilet paper. Not only were the prisoners treated as subhuman, undeserving of quality and care, we, their visitors, were as well.

Groups of visitors, mostly children, mothers, and daughters came and went in 25 minute intervals. After each, I chirped to my family, “we’re up next!” until the room cleared out and finally the three of us, a couple and a man in wheelchair were directed into Visitation Room One. The visitation room was an ugly smoker’s yellow. The walls used to be white but had been exposed to so much exhaled nicotine, they began to turn a sickly morning-piss color. I longed for the open sky. Possibly as a cruel joke, we sat in plastic outdoor chairs. They were rickety and dirty. Our eyes were drawn to an unwieldy contraption before us and as one, we grimaced. A communication unit divided us from our fellow visitors and their time with loved ones, but that didn’t offer much space or privacy for conversation. In front of us all, a large black metal box with a centered video screen, an ATM-camera, and a payphone handset was the only connection to our comrade. There were no windows, just walls and a protruding box. We picked up the phone preemptively and the guard yelled at us, making everyone jump. Apparently, one mishandling of the 1990s-model telephone and the entire prison-industrial complex collapses.

Finally, we were instructed to pick up the handset and the monitor lit up, displaying our friend’s face. As one, my brothers and I beamed love and excitement into camera. We greeted him as one would a visiting dearheart, with “heyyyyyyy!’s” and grins bright enough to illumine the night. The conversation was hard, as we three had to share one phone. For the entire 15 minutes, two of us weren’t able to hear what our comrade was saying to me or our brother. The video camera which relayed his image into our screen was angled down, so we all stared at the crown of his head. We rarely saw his eyes or his smile. I hadn’t spoken to our fellow Occupier before picking up that handset. I had seen him around at our Cermak office, General Assembly and actions, but I flit in and out of Chicago so quickly, I simply hadn’t the time to befriend him past my congenial wave and smile. Now I was speaking with him, laughing with him. This person for whose freedom I’d worked so hard for staring at me from a black box in a wall. I tried not to cry. His arm was bandaged and in a sling. He said his arm had been fractured at the elbow. He didn’t say how. It was smart of him to keep quiet, as the communication device doubled as a recorder.

Realizing this and the breadth of the entire situation, my eyes widened and filled before I could choke back my emotions. I wasn’t conscious of reaching for my brother’s hand until I felt him in my own. My hand was slick and cold; my face masking my inner rage and sadness at the broken systems of government and law. We told him all of time, energy, efforts, care, and concern we were actualizing for him. We asked him how we could make his existence in there easier. He asked for Bukowski, commissary funds for toilet paper, and to let Occupy Detroit know he was all right. We promised to accomplish all of those requests. The final five minutes of our 15 minute visit was counted down digitally in the upper right corner of the video screen. We said good-bye and the video monitor blinked off. As the screen went black, I felt the forced light and levity I’d been projecting to bolster him fade away. My chest hollowed and I sat in that dirty, flimsy chair for a moment with my head hanging down, face in my hands. Simply, my brain was overwhelmed at the abject cruelty of the state and the lies of those bastards who ripped a gentle man from his world, in order to prove a point to we who speak out against repression, we who attempt to build a better world for all people.

As we walked silently through the doors and into the sunlight, the chill from that prison lingered in my bones. Leaving the cold rooms with the dirty floors and power-drunk guards is next to unbearable. Even though we go home, we’re not gone. We remain in locked away in our visited comrade’s memory, in the remains of the endless day locked away from all known beauty and joy. One of the Occupy family will be back the next visiting day. Jail support is hard on me, hard on my delicate heart, but serving jail time would be impossible without comrades, like me, like anyone who can harden their hearts and stand up in solidarity to the state. By dedicating time and energy to support our caged friends, we’re demonstrating to the state, the world, and to each other that their cases will not be forgotten.

– Natalie Solidarity –

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Jail Solidarity, Part Two: Until the Prison Walls Are Rubble

Editors note: This was originally posted on Diatribe Media. Read Part One and Part Three.

Chicago, Il – In the depressing afternoon of June 14th, I watched the same tactics from prosecutors regarding freedoms of the remaining NATO5 “terrorists.” After dejectedly exiting 26th and California, my comrades and I drove across Chicago to support another prisoner. In a different courtroom with similar ridiculous charges levied against yet another gentle comrade whose only crime was daring to stand up to the bully state, I watched an Occupier stand in front of a judge. This time, instead of shackles, he entered the room with his right arm heavily bandaged and in a sling, and his body was in disrepair. The bruised, battered and shocked accounts from thathorrible night of his brutal and unnecessarily forceful arrest at the Quebec Solidaritérally and Casserole march showed his arm was fine before incarceration. He’s being charged with a crime against police that he did not commit. The irony is lost not on us, that all those cops’ goals include breaking protester bodies and crippling Occupy Chicago’s spine, while our ambitions instead encompass nonviolently creating new structures to improve this world. Our comrade’s body and spirit have been damaged by the very state we are striving to improve for the people, even those bastard cops.

Even though I gasped in horror and empathic pain, verbally echoing the looks of sadness, pain, rage, and anger emanating from the faces of our friends filling courtroom bench, there was nowhere else I’d rather sit. I had to see, not just for myself, but for the defendant as well. I needed to sit on the front lines of injustice, listen to the lies of state, absorb the fuel to figuratively burn this society down and nonviolently establish more beneficial structures for all people, especially ones like the defendant and the NATO5, whose only crime is raising their voices against a cancerous state. Court and jail support are essential to the health of a movement. They keep the movement focused on past struggles for which our family sacrificed their freedom, and strengthen us to work even more closely, as well as remind us how quickly our own freedom can be taken away by the state. Solidarity is the tenderness between struggles. Jail solidarity means calling our dedicated and beloved lawyers to check on our comrades and setting up visits to see our friends. That solidarity manifests itself when we fellow activists attend court dates and surround the space outside prison cells. It means sitting on those cold benches, radiating love and care. Jail support is what binds us together in- and outside of the cells.

Linking any agitation for social transformation to jail support is logical. At Occupy Chicago not only do we continue to support our allies’ struggles, as in Quebec, we’re continuing to fight for a new society: one without corporate money influencing politics and policies. The myriad applications of that idea include repairing economic disparity, reversing the pandemic of home foreclosure, creating better financial lending structures, empowering people across the world to stand up! fight back!, enforcing or generating accountability structures for government, determining an education system that benefits the public without debt, providing human services like mental health care instead of wasting taxpayer resources and in reaction to the June 7 brutal and savage police attacks on Chicago’s peaceful protesters, speaking out against police suppression and brutality.

Organizing is doing what is loved and tying that love into doing what’s needed for the greater good. We become better activists, better supporters, and better friends by educating ourselves and others. Before my fellow protesters were caged, I knew nothing about prison support. After diving in to the blazing ocean of others’ pain andtears by reading haunting firsthand accounts of jail life and treading visceral, hot water after internalizing the stories of crushing loneliness and omnipresent fear which manifests itself through incarceration, listening to what can be accomplished, we determined where and how to direct Occupy Chicago’s dedicated energy, bodies and resources. To support our caged comrades, we all keep fighting by keeping their struggle present in the public consciousness through past and upcoming press conferences, noise demonstrationsfundraisingeducation,courtroom solidarityradical direct actions, and political pressure campaigns. We show our comrades we love them by establishing working groups, , letter-writing parties, and visitation day/time announcements. We show them love simply by standing with them and reassuring them that they are not alone.

While I’m not physically caged with my comrades, I feel locked away. My energy, heart, and body are as dedicated to their fight and to their comfort. Precisely as Occupy fights for systemic change by highlighting the interconnectedness of home foreclosure to the education debt crisis and the corporatization of financial structures, forging the correlations of a repressive state climate coupled with brutal police repression and political imprisonment to Occupy Chicago’s overarching society-rebuilding endeavors is an exercise in solidarity.

Experiencing the waves of gratitude once we attained our victory of their freedom is enough to buoy me through the nights when I can’t sleep, thinking of people I used to stand with in the streets, now caged. Seeing, then freeing our comrades only inspires me to keep working, keep struggling, until the prisons come down, the movement for which our comrades have sacrificed their freedom will support them in our collective struggle.

-Natalie Solidarity-

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Jail Solidarity, Part One: Camaraderie in the Streets; Tenderness in Between Struggles

Editors note: This was originally posted on Diatribe Media. Photo by Marcus Demery. Read Part Two and Part Three.

Chicago, IL – Boots on the ground is one aspect of protest, arguably the most fun, most invigorating, and proffers the sentiment that our voices and bodies are transforming the system. With our manic dancing to the song of our unified voices singing, “Ah! Anteee! Anteee-capeeetalista!” in the streets under the ruling class’s nose, how could the public remain unmoved? How can they not join in and support us, even for a moment?

With our energy, spirit, dedication, and words, we are altering reality. We are unstoppable. We are building a better world with every step forward towards the heart of downtown Chicago. When we stand in the streets, screaming for social change, educating and empowering our sisters, brothers and the masses, governing power structures do their best to remove us. Police step in and attempt to silence our voices on behalf of the state by making arrests. When de-arresting fails and our family is ripped from us by the state’s savage hands and those boots on the ground are transformed into prison slippers on a cold cement floor, how does our movement stand? What do we do, as revolutionaries, when our comrades, our family-in-arms, the people with whom we make social change, are locked away from us?

We stand in solidarity, as we do in the streets. We are dedicated to one another, dedicated to social change, and, like the power of our people, that doesn’t stop when our freedom is taken away. Jail solidarity means waiting outside the holding area or prison with hot coffee, cheers, hugs and warm bodies for fellow protesters locked away. Jail support means bandaging our friends who were smashed to the concrete by the state with words and kindness, ministering the sunset-colored bruises, massaging away the aches from unnecessary and excessive uses of force. Jail solidarity means writing letters featuring silly stories and cartoons, sending reading material like science fiction, nonfiction, and art supplies like colored pencils and paper.

Linking any agitation for social transformation to jail support is logical. At Occupy Chicago, not only do we support our allies’ struggles, we continue to fight for a new society: one without corporate money influencing politics and policies. The myriad applications of that idea include repairing economic disparity, reversing the pandemic of home foreclosure, creating better financial lending structures, empowering people across the world to stand up! fight back!, enforcing or generating accountability structures for government, determining an education system that benefits the public without debt, and providing human services like mental health care instead of wasting taxpayer resources on manufacturing empty terrorist threats.

Currently, the City of Chicago chose to waste taxpayer resources to pay police informants to infiltrate Occupy Chicago. From there, National Lawyers Guild speculates that the informants, named Mo and Gloves orchestrated the scenarios that the group of arrestees known as the NATO5 would eventually be charged with. The Chicago Police, (and most notably not the FBI) were able to arrest our nonviolent comrades because they had entrapped them. Mo and Gloves initiated conversation, planned the actions and procured the items the NATO5 were arrested in connection with. The state has silenced dissent with lies and stolen these boys’ freedom. The loss of freedom for one is a loss for all.

Jail support is hard on the heart. When three of the NATO5, Brent, Jay, and Jacob were lead into court, shackled at their waists, wrists, and ankles, I leapt to my feet, eyes blurred by tears of hot rage. These children, barely old enough attend college, were dressed in mustard yellow jumpsuits with the letters DOC [Department Of Corrections] screaming from their backs. They looked so small. Bulletproof glass separated me from rushing into the court and hugging them. The following day, I watched the final two members of the NATO5, Mark and Sebastian look equally as small and helpless in their jumpsuits, powerless against Cook County Attorney General Anita Alvarez’s kangaroo court. While being lead away to their isolated cells and away from us, they glimpsed us standing and raising our fists to them in solidarity.

In the constant state of police repression we so agitate against, this is the end result: innocence in chains, with damage we can witness and scarring we cannot fathom.

We are activists, actively agitating against the world as it is currently established. Only a part of that conflict takes place in our streets. The majority takes place in our hearts, and our love of and for our fellow humans bolsters us through the cold nights in and outside of jails. It soothes us as we nervously wait to visit our friends who have been taken from us. Just as Occupy Chicago is the glue that binds the systemic struggles together, jail support keeps us strong and dedicated to one another, even through the heartbreak of visiting comrades through walls and television communication units.

-Natalie Solidarity-

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Thoughts on Chicago, Part 2: Cracking Skulls

Editor’s note: This story is part of our coverage of the #noNATO protests in Chicago.

Chicago, IL–There were so many actions taking place during our time in Chicago that it would be too lengthy to recount them all.  Occupiers were constantly on the streets, making their presence known.  When they protested outside Rahm Emanuel’s house some of his neighbors provided refreshments.  One anecdote worth sharing is when my wife and I were trying to catch up with a jail solidarity march. The occupiers moved too fast, constantly changing direction, and we couldn’t catch up.  Finally, my wife and I jumped in a taxi, an odd way to get to a protest, and tried to find the march.  We got close enough to see the marchers several blocks away, but the streets were blocked by police.  The cabdriver caught on to what we were doing and began weaving through the streets to find a way around the barricades.  Telling us it was like a movie he saw a couple days before, he was clearly enjoying this serendipitous  adventure and expressed support for the movement.  With some deft maneuvering, he got us within a block.  Of course we tipped him well.

May 20th was the day of the Anti-NATO rally and march.  Numbers have been estimated at 20,000.  A number of anti-war groups, CANG8, occupiers, and concerned citizens took part.  There were more protestors present than during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.  Unlike that historic action, this one had a permit.  Also, while there was a massive police presence, law enforcement acted with more restraint–at least at first.  The march went down Michigan Street as hundreds of people watched from the sidewalks and windows above.  There were many acclamations of support, though a few called us dirty hippies and yelled, “Get a job.” Actually, most of us were pretty clean and many of us have jobs.  Critiques about employment ought to be mitigated by the fact that we are in an economic crisis and unemployment is most certainly higher than government statistics claim.

The march ended at the permitted spot at Michigan and Cermak.  There was a moving ceremony as veterans spoke against war, then threw their medals in the direction of McCormick Place, where NATO was meeting, but the actual site was blocks from where we were. Unfortunately, the majority of marchers were backed up down the street and could not really see the event.  As the veterans spoke the crowd began to thin (with some encouragement from the police) and near the end there was only a small group left.  There was an eerie moment when I looked around and realized we were surrounded by police, who now outnumbered us.

They closed in slowly, ordering people to leave.  Many people did. Others simply got on the sidewalk and continued protesting.  Cameras recorded from all around, even on some roof tops. There was a police film crew as well.  I could not see over the crowd that had remained in the street, but it was clear that things were becoming volatile.  Cops came out of the crowd dragging people in handcuffs, some of them were bleeding.  The protestors became angry and started shouting. Two cops grabbed me by the shirt and threw me up onto the sidewalk.  I would have fallen, but, instead, stumbled against the people packed on the sidewalk.  One cop stuck a nightstick in my face and told me I’d be arrested if I stepped into the street.  At that moment, I was more worried about the nightstick than getting arrested.

The police cordon tightened around the remaining crowd.  I looked around for my wife. She was surrounded by police, and I could only see her hands held up high, giving the peace sign.  My daughter was somewhere further in the crowd and, because of what I saw, I was frightened for her.  Then the cops started driving us back, demanding that we leave the area.  They pushed us with their nightsticks and there was a discernible threat of violence in their demeanor.

At the same time worse things were happening in the remaining cluster of protestors, who were trying to stand their ground.  The police basically beat and pummeled people until they were driven away or arrested.  I won’t say that every single occupier was behaving peacefully, but, as a CNN reporter said later that evening, they did not deserve what was done to them.

My wife made it out and we began to search for my daughter.  We found a “wellness center” run by a church about a half mile away.  My daughter was there, clearly traumatized.  She had been pushed around and thrown, and had seen and video recorded worse.  The Wellness Center seemed more like triage after a battle.  There were people lying around with injuries and/or just trying to recover from the shock.  I saw several people with serious wounds on their heads.  The liquid running down their faces was not red paint.  Some were taken to the hospital.  As one was put in the ambulance, I saw a group of cops across the street jeering him.

– Stuart Leonard –

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Thoughts on Chicago, Part 1: Gathering

Editor’s note: This story is part of our coverage of the #noNATO protests in Chicago.

Chicago, IL–Now that I’ve had time to take in everything that occurred during the trip to Chicago and recovered from a nasty virus that came home with me, it’s time to reflect on this amazing event. So much happened during the actions from 5/17 to 5/21 that it is difficult at first to know what to write about.  From the moment we stepped on the bus to the moment we returned there was an overflow of exploits and encounters.  We all need to recognize the importance of our efforts there and, more importantly, ponder how these efforts relate to the hard work ahead of us.  There has been ample documentation of the events and actions, so this is a time for a personal touch, as well as to reflect on the bigger picture.

I would judge the gathering in Chicago a success, with some qualifications.  It was the largest gathering of its kind.  Occupiers from all over the country came together, worked with other organizations, and succeeded in staging numerous actions which showed that the Occupy movement is very much alive.  It wasn’t a cakewalk; there were many difficulties during the trip, and one thing that really moved me was the incredible fortitude and resilience shown by the occupiers, who overcame the obstacles and stayed focused on the mission.  The efforts of Occupy Chicago deserve special recognition.  They worked incredibly hard on dealing with the needs of the 800 occupiers that came flooding into their city.  Such dedication serves as a hallmark of what our movement can be.  The churches and other groups that provided lodging and services also deserve our thanks.

None of this would have happened without the support of the National Nurses United.   This union provided more than just money, and their commitment and support of the Occupy movement was courageous.  I worked closely with members of NNU, and (trust me) this was a complex and arduous endeavor.  The nurses took a chance in backing us because they believe in the goals we are all pursuing.  An important element of this venture was the cooperation that existed between Occupy and the NNU (as well as other groups.)  It showed that Occupy can work with other entities without being co-opted or losing its unique identity.  Indeed, at our best, it is our message and energy that appeals to others.  More than a few nurses asked me and other occupiers about participating in further actions.

The first large event was the NNU rally on 5/18.  Attended by thousands, it served as a positive, festive starting point for the events which followed.  The main focus was on the Robin Hood tax: a tax on speculative financial transactions that will get those corporate entities which caused the financial crisis to finally pay up.  This tax has worldwide support.  It is not an ultimate solution to our grievances, but could act as an important step in taking our world back from the Neo-liberal elite.  However, there was more to the rally than supporting the Robin Hood tax: it was a gathering of many people from diverse groups and backgrounds who came to demand social and economic justice, and an end to the tyranny of the 1%.  The sea of colorful bobbing signs protesting all the things we’re pissed off about was a beautiful sight.

As the rally was ending Occupy took the streets of downtown Chicago with a wildcat march.  It was a feisty action with several thousand participants, yet was not destructive or erratic, and many people on the streets showed their support. The march ended at the Michigan Street Bridge as a line of cops blocked the way and used their old school wooden billy clubs to emphasize the point.  Perhaps they were angry because an occupier had just ripped down a NATO banner from one of the pylons abutting the bridge.  I thought that was the highlight of the day.  As the occupiers walked away they chanted “We’ll be back,” and we were.

– Stuart Leonard –

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My Near-Arrest Outside the NATO 5 Indictment

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt of a post by an Occupy Chicago member.  Read the full post here.

Chicago, IL – I almost got arrested this morning: why? I was sitting on the grass with a few members of Occupy Chicago, outside the court at 26th/Cali, drinking coffee, enjoying the shade, and watching the belongings of others that went inside the court room to show support for 3 of the NATO 5. Twelve police officers, CPD and sheriffs, approached and demanded we move away from our belongings and show them our IDs. They claimed we could be starting fires, since cigarettes tossed in the area had been smoldering in the dry grass, and asked us to move to the other side of the street. I asked why I needed to show my ID and they said because they asked for it. While one cop was running our IDs, I took a picture of the assembled police. Immediately I was surrounded by four of the sheriffs, in all black with no visible badges or names. One demanded that I show them the picture or video I took and delete it. I asked them why? He said delete the picture. I asked why again and he said that I have to delete the picture. I asked what his name was and why he had no badge number. He told me his name was Chad Miller, badge #6431, and then repeated his “request”. I then asked him if he needed a warrant to look at the contents of my phone, and he said he did not. He said that it is illegal to film police in the state of Illinois and repeated that he does not need a warrant. Both of these statements are false. One, the 4th amendment states I am protected against illegal search and seizure and two, the status of the IL eavesdropping law is in question, since an appeals court has put an injunction on enforcing the law for now, due to possible infringement on 1st amendment rights.

But, I caved. out of fear, or “live to fight another day”, or whatever. I caved. I justified it several ways, the arrest wouldn’t be strategic, there were no NLG around to observe, etc. but, regardless of why, in the end, I let his act of power intimidate me. I deleted the picture, showed him I didn’t take any videos, and he stepped away.

Yes, I feel upset and violated from the blatant lies and implied threat of force and harm this sheriff made, a person in a role that, according to what I’ve been taught my whole life, is synonymous with truth, bravery, and heroics.

And this is nothing compared to the intimidation and harassment the police do on a daily basis around the country, especially towards the poor and people of color. The very reason I was at the court house was to support the 5 activists that are facing very serious charges because the city and mayor need to prove they have the bigger dicks than a peaceful protest group, and have fabricated some felony charges to justify their huge expenses. We need to stop allowing fear to control us and stand together to change this world!

-Micah Philbrook-

 

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Congratulations for Subversively Preventing Free Speech & the Right to Peacefully Assemble

Editor’s note: This story is part of our coverage of the #noNATO protests in Chicago. The following post is excerpted from a story on Diatribe Media; the complete article may be found here.

Chicago, IL–I was born and raised in Chicago, and lived here twenty-five years. The past four years, I have been away from my city, led by my camera to have and document new life experiences. I traveled throughout the west coast and lived in rural Oregon, which included a couple years of communal living. Even while working in a small café/bookstore in rural Oregon, people would often comment on my accent, and knew I was a Chicagoan.

On hearing Chicago would host the NATO/G8 summits this year, I decided I had work to do back home. I needed to get back in touch with people who were connected to what was happening in preparation for the summits, and I contacted an old friend, Aaron Cynic. We met at Columbia College Chicago, during the 2003 Iraq war protests, so I knew he would be active on the ground in Chicago. As expected, he knew other independent videographers, photographers, writers, and live streamers. When I got into town we met for the May Day protest and made plans to assemble a team of indy journalists to work together documenting the summit protests.

The march of many kettles

After the well-attended “Healthcare Not Warfare” March to Rahm Emanuals house on Saturday, May 19, we regrouped after a quick meal and upload session. Aaron, John and I headed back to the loop for the Anti-Capitalist march, which began at the Haymarket Square, quite a symbolic location. As we exited the train and did equipment check before continuing on, nearby police shot us hard looks. I found it strange, but we had too much to do to pay it much attention at the time. We hit the march, heavily flanked by police on both sides. Soon after we caught up with the march, police kettled the crowd at a dead end street. There was anxiety and confusion between the out-of-towners who were unfamiliar with the city, and with the entire crowd attempting to head in different directions, not knowing where to go next. We found ourselves boxed in, and people became very tense. Thankfully, police lines opened up to the east, and the march continued for some time until reaching the loop.

Boxed in on State Street. Photo by Kate Harnedy

This became, in my mind, “the march of many kettles.” Kettling is a police tactic for controlling large crowds during demonstrations or protests. Large cordons of police form and surround the protest to contain a crowd within a limited area. Protesters are left only one choice of exit, determined by the police, or are completely prevented from leaving. The feeling of being penned in is very disconcerting, and people tend to react angrily to this tactic. This practice is considered controversial for many reasons, including the inclusion of innocent bystanders, and denied access to food, water and services, and the use of the tactic to create disorder and an excuse for excessive police force.

Another kettle appeared again, this time on State Street. Once more, the crowd became tense and started to get angry. Knowing the history and use of kettling as a tactic, the threat that they would close in and arrest everyone became very real. As the crowd tried to push forward, police began to pull demonstrators from the front lines and arrest them. They used their bicycles as weapons, swinging them at protestors. In multiple pieces of video footage, evidence shows officers swinging their clubs mercilessly at demonstrators. Eventually, lines opened towards the south and allowed the march to continue, this time with an even larger police presence.

The march made its way to Michigan and Balbo, between two hotels where NATO summit delegates were staying. Once again, the march was kettled on the corner. Feeling like they might actually be in earshot of delegates, the energy rose as the crowd chanted loudly. This kettle lasted awhile, and we once again wondered if arrests were imminent. After what felt like at least a half hour, the crowd pushed north Michigan Avenue.

Once again, the march was quickly boxed in. Buses and vans with riot police pulled up and they quickly surrounded the crowd. Aaron and I were caught just outside police lines, but John managed to make it inside. The police presence had grown to ridiculous proportions, making us quite nervous. We had heard many accounts of law enforcement targeting journalists for arrest, and both became preserved in our photography after being followed and watched closely by police. After John made his way out, we decided to head back to home base and get our footage to a secure location.

That evening, we continued to receive reports of arrests and fellow journalists being targeted. A car containing five live streamers was pulled over, and they were handcuffed and detained at gunpoint. The live streamers were able to post video footage of this event, where TWELVE police vehicles surrounded their car. Meanwhile, a police van drove through a crowd of activists attempting to defend fellow demonstrators. The van struck multiple people, sending one to the hospital.

“The CPD, they ain’t messing around. And this is Rahm’s city now. Watch your back.”

The official NATO summit began the next day, for which the largest permitted march was scheduled. Our team assembled at the Petrillo band shell in Grant Park, where many activists spoke out against NATO policies and the activities of Chicago police during the week. As the groups gathered for the march, the police closed in and flanked both sides of the street. We stayed at the front of the march, in what may well have been considered a media kettle. As the march began, we stayed at the front, along with at least 200 other journalists.

We joked that we should just document each other, since we felt practically cut off from the actual march. The march was lead by a double-decker media bus and two police trucks. There were bicycle and police on foot following along on both sides, and there was a line of police behind us leading the march. Frustrated by the lack of action, I contemplated leaving to go back into the march. But with the police lines as thick as they were, I was not confident I could get back in.

The route was long, and the weather pushed a sunny 95 degrees. The mainstream media falsely reported that protestors had access to water and cooling buses, but those were only for police. When we were asked for water, we were denied. I saw many journalists drop out simply because they did not have water.

The crowd at Michigan and Cermak. Photo by Kate Harnedy

The march ended with a rally at Cermak and Michigan, for that was as close to McCormick Place as demonstrators were allowed. Emotions were high when veterans spoke about their regrets participating in unjust wars and threw their medals towards McCormick Place (because the officals refused to come out to receive them I person.) Women from Afghans for Peace also spoke of the trauma caused in their country. It was a moving and peaceful event. Although the 10,000+ people were hot and crammed together, they cheered in support and the mood was celebratory. Sitting up on a friend’s shoulders, I was able to finally see the extent of the crowd, which was incredible. I had walked these streets every day when I went to school in this neighborhood, and seeing them full of people expressing their rights filled my heart. I felt proud to be a part of this event and movement, and proud it was taking place in my home city. Sadly, that feeling of joy was short lived.

The veteran who was acting as emcee of the event told the crowd they would be marching out to the west, that the rally was over and people should leave to the west. Some people started to move out to the west on Cermak, which was flanked by metal fencing. The majority of the crowd stayed, continuing in their excitement and celebratory atmosphere. We heard no order to disperse, but suddenly, the CPD presence increased dramatically. Before we knew what was happening, riot police flanked the crowd.

They came in aggressively, yelling “Move!” and pushing those of us on the outskirts west. Yet the majority of people were inside the police line. This incited tension very quickly. Many people started chanting, “Who do you protect? Who do you serve?” and others linked arms and sat in the street. It all happened very quickly, and what was a peaceful rally quickly had turned very negative. The LRAD device started being used for communication, telling people to disperse to the west. I followed suit when I saw people putting in their earplugs, in fear of being deafened by LRAD if they decided to use it to disperse the crowd. I continued shooting what was happening as the tension built. I could hear a conflict deeper within the crowd, but I could not see nor get beyond the police line. It ends up this was the incident where protestors pushed forward, followed by harsh retaliation from the CPD. I started hearing cries for medics at this point.

After about ten minutes, things had not escalated any further. I had been out of water for over and hour, and was refused service by the only open business in the area (although they were happily serving police.) After seeing stars and feeling faint, I knew I had no choice but to leave. I regrettably exited the police line, knowing I would not be allowed back in.

Livestreamer Rebelutionary_Z, shortly before his arrest. Photo by Kate Harnedy

I saw video footage days later of what happened after I left. Police pushed forward and overtook the people sitting in the streets. They also broke rank and did a target arrest of livestreamer Rebelutionary_Z. I also got to see the footage of the commotion and violence inside the crowd that I could not see while I was there. I was appalled at the violence I saw in these videos. There is no justification for fully armed police officers to be indiscriminately swinging their clubs into a crowd of unarmed people, many of whom were trapped. My heart also went out to my fellow journalists who were injured. I was saddened to see pictures of a Getty photographer who had taken a billy club to the head, and to hear of others who were targeted, arrested, and had gear destroyed.

As I fell out and left the barricaded area, I was in shock at the police presence I saw for nearly a mile. CPD in full riot gear were lined up outside. As I continued on, I also saw battalions of Illinois State Police, with full riot gear and billy clubs that were twice as long. When I saw the state riot police with automatic weapons, the fruit punch I had just gotten from White Castle was the only thing that kept me from passing out.

It was a shock to see my city in this militarized state. I was aware that this was a National Security Event, and had expected a hefty police presence. But I could see no justification for a literal army going up against a group of mostly peaceful protestors. What I saw on Sunday I will never forget.

As I regrouped with my team in Chinatown, I went to freshen up in the restroom. A middle aged black woman came out of the stall and looked at me with concern. “You from around here?” I told her I grew up in Chicago, and she seemed a bit releived. She still gave me a warning. “Be careful out there, girl. The CPD, they ain’t messing around. And this is Rahm’s city now. Watch your back.”

After some much needed sustenance and a recharge, we hit the streets again. Like expected, we were not allowed to get anywhere near Cermak and Michigan. We were watched very closely, and with suspicion, by the police that lined the streets. We started getting word of people gathering in another location and headed north. The looks we got from people we passed on the streets were unforgettable. Although we were all carrying cameras, we were looked at with fear and uncertaincy. Perhaps it was the bandanas around our necks, which were good for preventing sunburn, and a weak protection against tear gas. I was amazed the fear we generated in people while the police-military was out in full force, and the real criminals were having their meeting at McCormick Place.

Presenting a press pass. Photo by Kate Harnedy

We one again ran right into a small impromptu march heading north on Michigan Avenue. Soon more small groups joined this group, and before long a large group took to the streets and circled back into the loop, where they met with the CPD again. The atmosphere was emotional, chaotic, and disobedient, but the march remained peaceful. There were attempts by police to reroute or stop the crowd, which lead to some small clashes. It was one of these moments where I got this picture of journalist Laurie Penny being shoved by police, even though she is holding her press pass.

The march eventually ended in a sit in at the Art Institute, where earlier in the evening Michelle Obama hosted to wives of the NATO delegates. A sit-in happened, and the mood was surprisingly celebratory. Once again, we called in a night and left to upload our material. On the way to the train, we passed a federal building surrounded by state police in riot gear holding large guns. When one of us asked what kind of weapons they were, they refused to tell us.

The following day the protests were calmer, but the police presence was not. After an afternoon of peaceful actions and marches, there was a rally at “The Horse” where Occupy Chicago holds G.A. Although nothing happened to incite any response, CPD once again closed in around the group. Our nerves were on edge, hearing about more “snatch and grab” arrests and the presence of police infiltrators. When a march broke out into the streets, we got the information to be careful, because the march was led by police informants. When I got back and looked at my pictures in detail, I found this picture of “anarchists” holding a sign, and was surprised by their footware. This woud be the first time I saw any protestor wearing dress shoes. They are hardly the best for days of marching through the streets.

Opposite Narratives, Opposite Worlds

One of the most frustrating things was to get home after 16+ hours in the streets (and 3-4 more hours of uploading) and turn on the news. We often wondered what they were reporting on, because it sure was not the truth we had just experienced. The biggest shock was Sunday evening, when reports were grossly underestimating the number of people at the march. Although the number was estimated around 10,000, the mainstream media gave numbers from 3,500 to as low as 1,200. It was infuriating. We were literally on the edges of our seats, cursing the television and the lies it was spreading. It is such a strange and sickening feeling to have lived something and then hear an entirely different reality from the media.

Considering the fear-mongering and oppression that happened leading up to and during the protests, I suppose I should not have been surprised by the lies I heard spread by the mainstream media in the days following the protests. And as the media says, so does the general public. I found myself having to correct people I knew who were spreading that misinformation they picked up from the news.

The misrepresentation in the media I have spoke of proved to me how history will inevitably write this truth out of the textbooks, as perhaps it always has. But I will continue to speak my truth and show my images so that people might understand what really happened this weekend. The people of Chicago and the entire country need to be aware of this militarization of the city, the oppression, and the lies. Chicago will always be my home, the place where I was born and big part of who I am. However this is not the city I grew up in. So much has changed. Political and corporate interests combined are destroying its character. Rahm Emanuel is doing whatever he can to break the unions. The cameras everywhere have Chicago as the second city again, this time in regards to surveillance. But the days following the summits gave me hope, for after the buses of out-of-towners left, many Chicagoans continue to meet, Occupy, and express their dissent. They continue to fight for those still in jail and the human rights violations that took place. It is time for the city of big shoulders to rise up and say no in the face of this destruction and oppression.

Protesters march in Solidarity with activists still in jail from the NATO summit protests. Photo by Aaron Cynic via Chicagoist

– Kate Harnedy –
Kate Harnedy is an independent photographer focusing on community, alternative culture, protest and social chance. Being rebellious with a strong opinion, she also enjoys writing and other forms of creative expression. She grew up in Chicago but has spent four years on the west coast living communally, and continues to live on the road to documenting live in American subcultures. You can find her work at Katehphoto.com.

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An Anarchist’s Odyssey to Chicago: Part 3

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

Monday May 21st 2012

Lucas, Emillio and myself woke up just after 9am, and made it down to the rally for the march against Boeing just before we circled up around 11am or so.  Boeing decided to close its headquarters rather than deal with a demonstration.  We had won.  I popped another party popper since we were all waking up and cheering a bit.  It was a small victory to be sure but a significant one given that slowing down that company’s business for even a day may have very well saved lives.  We learned about how Boeing had been given tax exemptions for well over two decades and free slave labor from prisons in order to build death machines to sell back to the government…in addition to all the really uncomfortable commercial jets they make.

The local organizers prepared some street theater for this action and protestors divided into groups of people who would lie down on the ground and pretend to die while other protestors drew chalk circles around them while pretending to be drones.  Emillio asked if was going to join in and I was, but my job is to play the pandeiro and help keep the beat or make it more interesting when we march.  I also saw other organizers stalking up not only on standard issue Revolutionary Games “weaponry” such as silly string, soap bubbles, bags of confetti and confetti cannons similar to the one’s I always like to bring on marches, but also lots of red balloons, our calling card logo.  Seeing unfamiliar faces flying the colors of my affinity group on their march made me feel completely at home and left me wondering as to which muse had spread the same ideas among so many deliberately disparate strangers.

Everyone on the march had been marching and working hard for days and weeks, but our bodies had grown increasingly addicted to the flow of adrenaline and endorphins and we let everyone who saw us in the streets and online know that we were at war with war and that we knew it had every bit as much to do with our economic enslavement as the devil’s bargains we had been forced to sign in exchange for education and homes.

It was a good march, I caught up with Lou and Matt, I had been playing my pandeiro and chanting when a photographer with a really cool looking old camera asked me if she could take my picture for a project she was working on.  Her name was Annie and she’d been taking pictures of occupiers from occupations all over the country and had accumulated nearly 500 portraits.  I thought it was a really interesting project and we stepped out of the march for a moment so she could focus the camera and get some good light.  She told me she was taking a picture of a movement and not me.  I liked that.  Annie wrote down my name, where I was from and she asked me just as she’d asked the others in her portraits what I would wish for if I were given one wish.  I managed to dodge the question somewhat by telling her I’d wish for the wisdom in order to make the best use of that one wish.

We chatted about Annie’s art projects and my academic projects for the rest of the march up to Boeing headquarters.  I took lots of pictures of the action outside of Boeing which included enough chalk, silly string, soap bubbles, explosions of confetti and paper airplanes to make children from the staunchest republican families want to stop and play with anarchists.

Nicole and John found me on the march again.  We traded our stories from the previous evening, marched, and chanted together through the streets of downtown Chicago from Boeing HQ past big corporate bank branches toward the last conference of the NATO summit on Michigan Ave.

I had been lost in conversation with John while we had paused onMichigan Ave for what must have been a moment of silence when he handed Occupied Stories flyers to three guys who had been casually listening to our conversation.  I’d heard one of them talk about our position next to a bus to someone on the other end of his phone before John asked him about what had brought him to the march and to write about it as well.  I thought that John was sincerely trying to do outreach so I asked the guy the same question a little differently to get him talking.  He said they were machinists and they were just there to check the march out.  He was vague, I asked them why they joined the march assuming they had wandered in having just seen it, but the most vocal of them with shades and cap said they new the march was coming but they were still vague and evasive.  Once the march started again and we drifted away from them  John told me he figured that they were undercover cops given that he saw them recording what we were talking about with their phones.  The thought hadn’t struck me as my mind had been elsewhere.  He also told me he’d seen perhaps six other people who were probably police slip on black block attire the previous evening.

The nature of oppression in our country is such that there is great joy to be found in transgressing against the system however transgression is hardly the same thing as terrorism, and these undercover cops at best caught me ranting, loosely based on the writings of Foucault and Nietzsche about how I think that everyone in society would probably be happier if our criminal justice system was still based on public torture like it used to be during the dark ages as opposed to the modern system of confined imprisonment we use today.  I could only wonder as to what those three undercover dicks and their backup could possibly think of the notion.

I later introduced Nicole and John to Annie and they hit it off as I thought they might.  The four of us decided to take a break from the rally and grab some deep dish pizza before John and Nicole had to split.  I walked around ‘The Bean’ while Annie took Nicole and John’s portrait.  She asked them both the same question about their one wish once we had made to the restaurant.  Those of us who are involved with this movement are able to put a lot of trust in one another because we see each other so often in the streets, but most of us don’t actually know that much about one another other than the raw measure and strength of character which becomes nakedly visible to all out in the streets.  It was a pleasure to slow down, eat pizza far better than almost any which can be found in New Yorkand talk without chants in the background.  A few Chicago Police Officers had stopped by for lunch as well and were seated at a table next to ours.  We exchanged pleasantries and stories.  One of them told me that there were cameras all over the area where I had been clubbed.  He didn’t seem especially fond of Rahm Emmanuel, ‘he’s the guy who signs my checks’ was the officer’s response when I asked his opinion of the politician.

I parted ways with Annie and then John and Nicole after we had finished eating.  They had to catch a flight and I had to retrace my steps and try to figure out the location of where I’d been whacked by the riot place so I’d have something to tell the lawyers.  I figured it was definitely on Wabash just off of VanBueren like the caption in the photo I later saw online of Shon and Becca checking me out when it had happened.

Tuesday May 22nd 

I was scolded by a cashier for using a woman’s bathroom at a rest stop somewhere close to the edge of Pennsylvania during our bus odyssey home, I told her it was a New York thing but that I had remembered to put the seat back down.  I also heard Mandolin say it was a New York thing as well after he walked out of it a moment later.  I used a bathroom in a different area of the rest station after I’d finished some really bad lunch.  The attendant mentioned to another man standing there that she only had another hour left to go in her day.  “The longest hour of the whole day I bet?”  She looked at me and said “honey you wouldn’t believe the kinda day I’ve had.”  I involuntarily smirked as I glanced down from her to pull change from my wallet; I may have also shook my head a bit in disbelief at her last remark and said “tell me about it” in the tersest acquired Brooklyn accent I could manage.  She asked me how my day could possibly be any worse than hers.  I told her I was stuck on an 18 hour bus ride back from the NATO protests in Chicago with five staples in my head from a riot baton.

The cashier stared at me in disbelief.  She made no attempt to convince me that her day had been more difficult than mine.  She paused with disbelief for a moment of such a duration that I wasn’t sure if we were having a conversation.  I angled over to the display case at the edge of the counter where all of the knives were because I have a shameless knife fetish.  I realized I probably shouldn’t salivate over them while talking to these folks and turned my attention back towards them with a polite smirk.  Clearly thrown off by the business suit I was wearing as much as my story, the cashier asked me why the police were beating on me given I was dressed the way I was and not my gritty occupier friends outside the rest stop.  I mentioned that I hadn’t been in my suit at the time, but that the police were still pretty indiscriminate.  It was a lot for them to process.  The Occupy Movement, at least in NYC has certainly not managed to abolish the boundaries of class which still painfully persist even in our community, however we certainly have managed to maintain our solidarity despite those boundaries.

The cashier asked me if I thought our protests had done any good.  I told her that the protests against NATO had turned into a 70,000 strong anti-war statement.  I told the cashier and the other guy in the store about the veterans who talked about what the war is really like before they threw their medals away and the action against Boeing and how they didn’t pay taxes and used slave labor from prisons.  I told them it did a lot of good I thumped my fist against my heart as I left them with a polite nod and smile.

The view of New York City from over that northern bridge over the Hudson was beautiful.  It made all of us anxious to get off of the bus.  Many on the bus wanted to start march directly after leaving the bus.  They got their chance with a Montreal solidarity march from Washington Square Park to Union Square shortly later that evening.  I swung byUnion Square after I’d missed the march.  Thorin, Lauren, Jack and others looked like they were ready for more marching.  Their choice is to take the streets or to live in them but I gratefully marched to the subway stop leading back to my apartment and shortly thereafter occupied my bed.

-Harrison Schultz-

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

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Show Me What a Clown State Looks Like!

Editor’s note: This is part of a collection of first-person accounts from #noNATO.

Chicago, IL–This account is not going to be the super detailed story of the battle between protesters and police.  For one, I hardly saw any of the stories that people mentioned other than what I could find on YouTube, so it wouldn’t make sense to write a personal account of something I didn’t even witness.  And two, I think my insights would paint a bit more interesting picture than the tired story of protesters being bloodied by batons.  So instead I’ll give a little insight to the mysterious and silly clown bloc which I participated in for the first time today.

Surely everyone was aware of the massive protest against NATO that took place today in Chicago.  It was hard to gauge the approximate numbers in the march but it surely surpassed 10,000.  One thing that was for sure is that we will have to learn to adapt this coming summer.

In the past we were struggling to brave the cold and brutal winter, and were desperately looking forward to warmer temperature and greener pastures.  If the temperatures pushing 90 weren’t wearing people out, the infamous Chicago humidity was.  The clown bloc, which departed from Jackson and Lasalle, traveled a short half mile to rallying point in Grant Park, but upon our arrival it looked as if many of us had run a 10k (to be fair, we did do a lot of clowning around, so we exerted a lot of energy.)

One thing to keep in mind about the clown bloc is that it is a joke, and at the same time it is NOT a joke.  What the clowns offer is safety and security to their fellow protesters in a fun and flamboyant way, which draws attention to the absurdity of the subject of which we are protesting.  Many of the tactics we use are meant to help deescalate situations, entertain the protesters and soften (or annoy) the police, but more importantly we are out there to have fun.

I only attended a short training a few days before but in essence what the clown bloc does isn’t that different than what many direct action affinity groups do.  You must have a variety of hand signals that allow for group as well as participant safety.  You must be aware of the situation at all times, but  when you have face paint and you are mimicking a cop you can easily get distracted.

We were taught to form a wall, how to “melt”, and charge in slow motion, as well as how to use hugs to secure those in compromising situations.  But we often found ourselves just making fools of ourselves, cracking jokes while interacting with those around us and trying to get the police to smile.  (By the way, a lot of the CPD seemed to be keeping their batons up their butt, because virtually none of them had a sense of humor, or facial expressions for that matter)

It wasn’t until later in the march when the rally was over and tensions started to rise that I started to see the value in the tactics that we were taught.  At that point, I switched off clown mode and was keeping a safe but observant distance.  Vermin Supreme (yes, that Vermin Supreme) showed better than any of us clowns that day the effectiveness of “clowning.”  His calm, relaxing voice not only kept things from getting out of hand several times, but took people’s attention away from the people with shields and batons and refocused it on one another.

He may not be as outlandish as we were visually but his communication skills were outstanding.  He gave a training on his methods to Occupy Chicago back in April and then we half-heartedly listened to his advice, but the NATO protest helped make it clear that our protests are more than just antagonizing and peacefully provoking the police so that we may “shed light” on the oppression and violence inherent in the system, but more that we have a message, and we have a story to tell: to tell the whole wide world that this is the people’s territory.

You have plundered our livelihoods, you’ve stolen our retirement, you’ve destroyed our health, and you’ve corrupted our system.  We are merely taking it back.  This is non-negotiable.  We the people are re-declaring our independence and our freedom.  And if it takes a pie in the face or acting like you’ve ran into an invisible wall, then so be it.

Often we have discussed diversity of tactics and what it means to be “non-violent,” but while the debate rages on about those who pursue more traditional methods, opposed to those in all black clothing, don’t forget that those with red noses also have something to offer, and in solidarity we can all fight this fight together.

– David –

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