Chicago, IL-When I woke up on Friday morning [May 18] I had no idea that I would fly to Chicago the next day to protest the NATO summit; but spontaneous actions are often the most inspiring kind.
My girlfriend Nicole asked me if I wanted to go and after watching some live streams from the various marches in progress I thought: why not? When we told Rachel, a comrade in Chicago that works on the Occupied Stories project with us, that we were coming she sent out a tweet asking for any available couches, and less than twenty four hours after we decided to go to #noNATO, we were picked up at the airport. Theresa was an old friend that Rachael hadn’t seen in years—and we had never even physically met Rachael—but she wanted to support the movement any way that she could. Theresa explained to us on the drive to her house on the north-side of Chicago that “I can’t be out in the streets because I so badly need to keep my job. My husband had a heart transplant thirteen years ago and had an accident just a few months back. He is right now in the hospital re-learning how to walk, so if I lose my insurance it would be devastating.”
I flew a thousand miles to be on the front-lines and show opposition to the NATO war machine, a violent military organization that drains tremendous amounts of energy and money from our government. Theresa is on the front-lines every day, living in a world where there is always money to train soldiers and build better bombs but never enough to care for ourselves when we fall ill.
After a huge rally and march down toward the NATO meetings, Nicole and I split off with Harrison, another New Yorker working on the Occupied Stories project, for some much-needed food and drink. We lost the group and missed the big clash between the black bloc and riot police. We started walking south toward NATO and where we heard the remaining protesters were being kettled. We couldn’t get anywhere close. Rows of riot police blocked every street and looking beyond them all we could see were flashing lights and more police in heavy combat gear.
We walked north, back toward the city center, not sure what we should do. We met another small group wandering around and joined them. The ten of us decided that it would be useless to try to join the group behind the police lines, and when we heard that some NATO delegates were meeting at the Art Institute we made that our destination. There were small groups of protesters scattered around and we grew quickly. When we were two dozen, we began to chant and sing; it started to feel like a protest and we grew faster. There were about 50 of us when we decided to take the street. The spontaneity of our protest created an incredible energy that would be difficult to plan. Once we were in the street, filling out all three lanes on our side and chanting loudly, we almost literally doubled in size with each minute. We had live streamers now and created enough noise to draw people from all directions. A block after we took the street, we spotted another large group of occupiers coming toward us on the sidewalk. They took the street when they saw us and we ran toward each other and met at an intersection in between with wild excitement. The sound of our voices yelling “Whose streets? Our Streets!” never rang as true as that moment as it echoed off the buildings and blended with the horns of passing drivers holding out their hands for high fives.
We tuned left and ran down the street and became a magnet for every protester milling around downtown. Within a few minutes there were well over a thousand people; then two; then three. For a while, it felt like the city was ours. I’ve never been a part of a march that grew so quickly, or had as much raw visceral energy that was devoid of anger. Harrison and I caught eyes and smiled. “This is fucking amazing. This is the best march I’ve ever been on,” he said, and we slapped hands and brought them to each other’s chest.
Police were assembling and began to set up blockades in front of us. Some we were able to run through and others forced us to make abrupt turns, but there were no arrests or major physical clashes. When we reached the Art Institute, the front of the march, unaware that we were at our destination, kept going. A few people toward the back were able to mic check that NATO delegates were inside and while the bulk of the march went on, about two hundred people sat down in the street. Harrison was with the group that kept marching; Nicole and I stayed at the Art Institute. Eventually the march got word that we were locked down in the street in front of a meeting of NATO delegates, demanding an audience with them, and they came back to join us; but Harrison wasn’t there.
An organizer from Occupy Chicago mic checked that they were receiving reports that a protester had been killed by police and our spirit immediately changed. The level of tension between us and the hundreds of riot police that had assembled and stood in rows in front of the Art Institute skyrocketed. Everyone tried to reach out via their phones to confirm or deny the report, but all the joy had left. While this was going on, I received a message from Harrison. He had been attacked and beaten by police a few blocks away. Three blows from a police baton on the back of his head sent blood down his neck and sent him to the hospital for five staples to close the wound.
A few minutes later we all learned together that the reported death was rumor, and I learned from a new message on my phone that Harrison would be okay. Since I’ve joined the occupy movement many months ago, there have been moments of both exuberance and dismay. There was no shortage of either in Chicago this weekend.