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 –]]>
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 –]]>
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.]]>
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 –]]>
Sunday May 20th 2012
We woke up around 9am the next morning and six of us met with three to four dozen other student protestors from CACHE (Coalition Against Corporate Higher Education) at Jackson and La Salle and we marched strong and loud through the streets to the rally at Grant Park with a giant black ball with 1,000,000,000,000 written on it in order to represent the sum of our collective debt to society in exchange for insolently daring to become smarter. The rally at Grant Park was enormous, I wandered around sending pictures of giant puppets to our own Secrete People’s Puppet Lair in NYC. Speakers from activist groups from the area and from all over the world were speaking. Lines to the water stations and kitchen were huge given the heat. I finally caught up with Nicole and John and met Rachel face to face for the first time during a meeting mostly of OWS folk from New York who were talking tactical before the march.
We caught up to the front of the march together and we popped a few of the party poppers we had been sneaking past cops. We stopped popping them off during a march after one of the Veterans at the front asked us to stop out of respect for the Post Traumatic Stress many of them had incurred. I didn’t pop anymore until after someone else in the crowd of 70,000 people on that march popped theirs after listening to those veterans denounce the war on terror with words about dead children, mothers and fathers, sexual assaults, post traumatic disorders, suicides, oil, lies and shame before throwing their medals away one by one.
It was a heavy ritual and I felt a need to get out of the crowd and get hydrated as quickly as possible once it had ended. We worked our way out of the crowd west from the march and saw huge lines of heavily black armored riot police brandishing clubs, moving in the direction we had just come given that the rally was scheduled to end at 4pm. Nicole, John and myself heard reports the police where using Long-range acoustic sound cannons on black block protestors while we were guzzling Gatorade in order to replenish electrolytes and avoid heat exhaustion.
We weren’t quite sure where we should go after we finished eating some food, but we found Lucas, Emmillio, Vanessa, Christina, Stephanie, and more and more with every block we walked until we eventually wound up on Michigan Ave. We collectively decided to begin chanting around the time 25 of us had started heading toward congress and Michigan together. The sidewalks on Michigan avenue were still large enough to accommodate us at that point, but we were obliged to take Michigan Ave. once our impromptu march had snowballed into over 50. We were greeted by hundreds of occupiers who had been under the statues on Congress and Michigan. I popped the last two party poppers I had brought with me as we tore ass down congress and began marching wildly through the car filled streets of downtown Chicago.
I shared looks of amazement, wonder and happiness, words of disbelief and reassurance and congratulatory embraces with Lucas, Nicole, John, Vanessa, Emillio and others. We had begun our march as a handful, watched grow into hundreds and felt the fragile distinction between making something happen and being a part of the thing that happened to be happening completely disappear in the process. It was exhilarating, empowering and liberating. I kept running into friends on the march. I ran into @missarahnicole a live tweeter I met through Tim and Tim himself who was confirmed that he was as exhausted as he looked after his raid much earlier that morning. He picked up a small scarf-sized red and black anarcho-syndicalism flag someone had dropped in the streets. I’m not sure why he picked it up given that he handed it right off to me since he didn’t want anyone potentially using it to attribute any ideological leaning toward himself. I took the flag and tied it to my pandeiro which I’d been playing to the bone of my right thumb on every march, not that I thought Tim’s concerns were terribly salient.
The march seemed to be going anywhere and everywhere. Lucas had some juice left in his phone and found out as had a few others that NATO leaders where gathered at the Art Institute on Michigan Ave. I was at the head of the march with Julian and others though I didn’t recognize trying to steer it in that direction. I looked officers in the eye and told them that it was nothing personal but we had to protest the scum they were protecting and that we should all go drink cold beer together like civilized people after finishing up for the evening; some of them rolled eyes, others winked with respect.
The head of the march kept moving south on Michigan past the Art Institute. A large portion of the march including John and Nicole had stayed at the Art Institute and I wish I had as well. We wound up hanging a right down Jackson I believe, then began marching up Wabash when a group of police shielded up in a circle behind their bicycles which they used to push protestors away after a cop fell or they took a protestor down, I couldn’t quite tell. I had been walking backwards along with the march away from the Greek Phalanx-like formation of Bike cops when the heavily black armored riot police quickly and eagerly swarmed in around them shoving protestors away with heavily notched wooden batons.
I was smiling and playing my pandeiro when a riot cop looked me directly in the eye. I watched his lips mouth ‘mother fucker’ as he advanced on me. I turned and ran in the direction I had already been moving without even thinking to bother about getting his badge info or evidence with my phone. I ran fast, but all avenues of escape were blocked by the backs of other fleeing protestors which was all I could see as I felt my head rattle beneath three strikes from the riot cop’s baton on top of my head. I felt another blow glance off my leg as I managed to get around the other protestors. It definitely hurt a bit in spite of the adrenaline coursing through me. I took my black fedora off and felt for damage with my right hand. My finger slipped inside my head just a little bit and my hand came away covered in blood which was running down my bare neck, back and chest. Thankfully I had already taken off my shirt from the heat and drizzling humidity which was mingling with my sweat. I had spent five years training to respond to trauma such as this as a lifeguard and I realized that I was still conscious, mobile, not to mention still rational given that I was yelling for a medic fully aware that I had no way of safely knowing on my own weather or not chunks of skull might puncture my brain later that evening.
Shon, Becca and Captain got to me. They told the cameras to get back but I said it was ok for them to shoot and film. The medics took control and Becca said she could see large cut and bruise but no fractures when she checked and palpated the wound after she checked my vitals. She told me I should still get a CT scan even though she didn’t suspect any serious lasting head trauma. She and Shon bandaged me up and told me to go to a hospital for stitches. They went back into the fray and Captain walked with myself and person or two with cameras who interviewed me while walked in the direction of Northwestern Hospital.
Captain got pissed off when a group of cops in khakis told us we couldn’t continue walking north up State Street. One of them cringed at the bandage on my head and the blood drying on my bare neck, chest and back and said he was sorry about it but that we couldn’t pass. Captain asked him how the hell he was supposed to get me to the hospital. One of the cops said he’d get us an ambulance which I doubt they would’ve paid for but they suddenly received orders to leave the intersection. They marched off and we continued towards the hospital a few more blocks.
I smoked some more of my cigar, Captain said it would help thin the blood and staunch the flow a bit more. I occasionally said hi to a few gawkers on the street while I used what little power I had left in my phone to text to my friends and get a few status updates out. I decided we should hail a cab rather than continue to wonder around looking for a bus. Captain and another guy with us ran ahead and found a cab while I pulled a shirt over the dried blood covering my torso. We were only about $8 dollars away from the hospital. Captain and his company took off in the cab back toward the action while I checked myself into the emergency room.
I was prepared for a long wait but the waiting room was virtually empty except for another protestor who’d apparently been injured before me but the nurses and docs were ready to examine me before I even had a chance to use the restroom. They let me use their phone to call the number I had for the Chicago Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild as well as the number of another Lawyer whose card I had been given right after the medics checked me out. A nurse wheeled me into a room for a CT scan and back into the ER. Two cops from a different division came in to talk to me. One of them asked if I’d been hit with a stick like the one he had begun holding over and if I knew which end I’d been hit with after I told them what happened. He put it away as we got down to the seemingly more crucial questions from their POV about what I had been doing to deserve the whacks and more importantly how I felt about police in general rather than what had actually just happened.
I told them both that I thought that the majority of cops were just people who had it almost as bad as we did and who were doing a shitty, thankless job, but that there were clearly a minority of sadists who enjoyed the brutality. One of them said that what I had said was absolutely true. I told them I thought the sadistic officers tended to be the higher ranking ones as well. The other cop told me it was all about connections and he started talking about some corrupt local politician who’s staff consisted of 80% illegal immigrant labor as if that was more important than anything I had been protesting and also as if we were on the same side. They didn’t have anything to say about my incident and didn’t have any advice to give as to what I should do about contacting lawyers or police reports.
A nurse came in and cleaned the gash on my head with cold water and hydrogen peroxide, she talked about some other “cool” things she had seen including a guy who had turned his scalp into a toupee from a motorcycle accident. Another nurse came in to make copies of my health insurance card. Another guy in scrubs gave me a quick shot of tetanus vaccine in my arm after she finished and left. Another guy in a white coat who had been some sort of bio chemical engineer before working in the ER asked me why I was out there as he began numbing the wounded area on my head before stapling it back together. I’m never sure where to begin whenever anyone asks me that question but he wanted to know what I was hoping to achieve out of this, he asked me…after I told him I thought the conversation was interesting and that I didn’t mind having it while he stapled my scalp back together…what my one demand would’ve been.
I told him I was glad we never made demands, forgot about the whole occupation on Europa thing, and told him I thought marijuana legalization could change society the fastest by ending the drug wars with Mexico, lead to reform in prisons and law enforcement, help ease the pain of all sorts of medical maladies while simultaneously cutting into the profits of a corrupt pharmaceutical industry, put America’s economy back to work by producing all sorts of things out of industrial grade hemp including bio-diesel fuels thereby also addressing the climate crisis. He snickered when I told him I believed that smoking pot would literally solve all of our problems, but disagreed that bio-diesel produced from hemp would help lower greenhouse temperatures since it was still a combustible. He went on to talk about how he thought rapid revolutionary changes typically caused more problems than they solved and that he thought revolutions were best when more gradual.
Naturally I asked him for medicinal marijuana for my headache after he finished the conversation and putting the staples into the star-shaped gash in my head. He reminded me that it wasn’t yet legal in Illinois and gave me some paper work instead before I left the hospital. I caught a cab back to my host’s place on the north side. My phone had regained a bit of juice and I texted my host and Lucas who told me they would be out doing jail support for a while longer.
I was locked out of the place we were staying, basically ok but too exhausted, covered in blood, and a bit chilly. I began to brood mean thoughts as I sat on the porch waiting for my friends to return. I knew that I could either sit on that porch and let that moment turn into another reason for me to hate the world along with everyone in it or I could go to a bar and try to talk to women. I wisely opted for the later, figuring that the blood would serve as a good a reason as any for someone to listen to a genuinely crazy story.
The bartender at a place a few blocks away asked me what happened after he took my order and put the first pint of beer in front of me. A woman who happened to be listening to my story did in fact invite me to join her and her friends who were playing cards and pool in the back. I told her I’d come hang out after I finished my burger and a conversation with another local guy who worked at a coffee shop around the area. He swung by the pool game I’d started with the girls in back to buy me a shot and shake my hand. I was overwhelmed with gratitude to find that a plastic bag with a bit of “medicine” for my headache had magically appeared seemingly by magic into the palm of my hand. I bought him a shot, and started to finish up my game with the girls since Lucas and our hosts had returned. We all needed to quickly debrief and get some rest. It was all good though because I think the blood and the story was all a bit too serious for them to take once we started hanging. The only guy who was hanging with them wanted to play devil’s advocate about why I was protesting NATO not that he didn’t support the protests, but I was in no mood to talk about it. The whole reason I had gone out to socialize was precisely to stop thinking about it.
The game soon ended and I sent my friend from the local coffee shop a friend request on Facebook before I got back to James’ place and filled everyone in on my ordeal. Lucas told me I had missed some good moments while I was in the hospital. Protestors had identified an undercover cop and started shouting “cop, cop, cop” at him until he was escorted out of the march by medics trying to look as if he didn’t know what the crowd was talking about and also as if he wasn’t afraid. I had also missed a mass dance party and group hug in the rain in front of the Art Institute after the march had ended.
Editors note: This is a three part series. Check out part one, part two and see all our stories from the #noNATO actions here.]]>
New York, NY – For very personal reasons I don’t respond well to verbal abuse, and people had been yelling at me from the moment my cab pulled up in proximity to the bus I needed to catch. The wheels of the vehicle I was in had barely ground to a halt before the screaming started.
“You can’t pull up here.”
“But I’m getting on one of the buses.”
“I’m trying to.”
“I can’t, I have to pay the driver and get my bags.”
I’m no futzer or dilly-dallier for fucks sake. And the cops wouldn’t exactly be happy if I vacated the cab without paying my tab. Argh! What did they want me to do that I wasn’t already doing?
Flustered, I threw myself and my bags onto the first New York bound bus I found. Only to be yelled at again. This time by an alternate driver, for some bizarre reason involving his need to sit in a specific seat so he could use a boombox to help him sleep?!?
“You don’t want to be in this bus if I can’t sleep. NO ONE DOES!!!!!”
I was getting sick of men taking their frustrations out on me. Fuck this shit.
I jumped off that bus and on to the next, only to be yelled at again, this time because it was “full.” Only it wasn’t. Fuck this shit, again.
Having run out of New York buses available to board, I collapsed with my bags on the pavement as chaos reigned around me. The presence of the police, barking unnecessary and nonsensical orders, which in turn harassed and panicked riders, was irrational. It was merely causing undue stress and hindering proceedings with absolutely zero tactical gain. After all, they were getting what they wanted, us “trouble makers” were leaving town. Like most abusive situations though, it seemed to be a power play, an action that gave the abuser the illusion of control. I hope someone felt better after yelling at me.
I sat on the cold hard concrete for a couple of minutes with my head in my hands, trying to tune out the un-checked aggression I’d been accosted with. I looked up and saw a friendly face walking towards me. It belonged to Stephen Webber, the deceptively unassuming and utterly awesome individual that had wrangled funds for the fleet of fourteen 99% Solidarity buses from the NNU. He told me not to worry, that two more NYC buses were waiting in the wings. Then, as he approached, so did the swing driver from the first bus I’d tried to board. I guess he felt guilty (he was), and offered to carry my bags to the second bus, which had now magically found room for me.
Ensconced in the relative calm of the bus, I got myself situated. Having captained one of the three buses out from LA, I’d bought a power converter with me to create a charging zone for the power hungry livestreamers aboard my designated media bus. As I negotiated with the diver as to how best to distribute his cigarette lighter-sourced juice, a female fellow Brit chirped, “Are you English?”
I turned around to see who’d inquired and immediately honed in on a girl with a crimson shock of hair. There was only one person it could be: UK journalist Laurie Penny a.k.a. my recent Twitter acquaintance @PennyRed.
I’d started following her after my friend, SG contributor @ZDRoberts had raved about her work, and had subsequently posted an excerpt from her Notes from the New Age of Dissent book – an essay entitled “In Defense of Cunt” – on this very blog. Consequently, when @PennyRed’s message saying “@99Solidarity trying to get in touch with you” showed up in my timeline, I’d immediately reached out to help. Turned out she’d been commissioned to write a story on the Chicago #NoNATO trip by The Independent, and needed a spot on one of our buses – something, as a member of the 99% Solidarity team, I’d been able to facilitate.
At the time, she’d told me she was only taking the bus one way, out from New York to Chicago, so it was a pleasant surprise to see her on the return ride. It was this kind of serendipity, born of often adverse situations, that’d been a reoccurring theme in the past few days. After all, if the first bus driver hadn’t been so offensive, I’d have never boarded this one, and we’d never have met.
The ride back otherwise was pretty uneventful, and, being a mere 15-hour journey, was far less grueling than my 50-hour epic ride out from LA. As the NY skyline appeared on the horizon, the mostly slumbering bus began to stir. “Welcome back to the rotten apple,” shouted one passenger as I stared at the deceptively beautiful view ahead. Closing in on our Upper West Side drop off point, another hollered with barely a hint of irony, “Mic Check! Does anyone know if there’s an action scheduled for today?”
As a bus captain and member of the 99% Solidarity crew, at times, organizing occupiers was akin to herding cats. But that’s kind of the point. These free-thinking individuals doggedly refuse to follow the crowd like sheep, and are not easily led. It’s this very quality that more Americans could do to be imbued with. They could also use a little of the tenacity of occupiers, something that those who claim the Occupy movement is over clearly underestimate.
My coast-to-coast adventure had been a trip in more ways than one. Thought I’d traveled across the country, I’d actually seen very little of it from the microcosm of the occu-bus. But I’d been rewarded in other ways. As I rolled across America, I’d forged new friendships, strengthened the bonds of existing ones, and substantially extended my network of like-minded activists. As a group, we’d learned a few things too; That a little organization goes a long way and that united by a common cause we could depend on and trust in the kindness of strangers, especially if those strangers self-identified as occupiers.
Though 99% Solidarity had always hoped that the Chicago trip would lead to greater cohesion and an exchange of ideas between occupiers from different cities, no one had anticipated it would lead to an actual exchange of occupiers to the extent that it did. As I write this, I’m on sabbatical from LA, occupying my friend, investigative journalist @Greg_Palast’s couch in NYC. And, having been made to feel so at home by the Occupy Chicago crew, all of whom were strangers to me prior to the advent of this trip, I look forward to paying it forward to the new members of OccupyLA once I return to the arbitrary place on this rock hurtling through space that I currently refer to as home.
Talking of which, one of the other things I realized on this fantastic journey is that regardless of whether I’m in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago or my native United Kingdom, when I’m amongst occupiers I am home.
Full disclosure: Nicole Powers has been assisting with 99% Solidarity’s efforts and is in no way an impartial observer. She is proud of this fact.]]>
Chicago, IL -My feet are completely blistered, my bones are sore. I’m dehydrated, bruised and beyond exhausted. I’ve spent four days on the streets of Chicago, running through streets and alleys, cameras strapped to my body, frantically trying to take in as much information about the protests surrounding the NATO summit on Sunday and Monday.
For two days, world leaders gathered in Chicago to discuss what tens of thousands of activists described as the world’s largest game of Risk, where the stakes amount to life and death for citizens around the globe.
Some might accuse me of hyperbole, but considering the massive amount of civilian casualties (including women and children) in countries like Libya and Kosovo, bombed by NATO forces, the silent voices of the dead would probably disagree.
For the average Chicago resident, hosting the NATO summit fell short of what Mayor Rahm Emanuel predicted in nearly every way. City officials and other higher-ups in the Democratic party heralded the meeting of world leaders as a chance to showcase Chicago as a “world class city,” hoping it would be a boon to the local economy. We were assured of peace in the streets. According to officials, massive security spending will be reimbursed by the federal government, though the city’s coffers remain empty.
The city spent months preparing to host the summits, as did activists both locally and nationally. Thousands bused into town beginning many days before the summit, but Chicago residents had been chattering about them many months prior. Many concerns were over logistics – hosting world leaders means an incredible amount of security which would snarl traffic, make traveling difficult, and shut down business as usual in the city for days.
NATO protest night march 5/20/12. Photo by Kate Harnedy.
Between media hype surrounding potential protester violence, resulting in local businesses boarding up their windows (and shutting down completely for a few days, in some cases,) and the logistical inconveniences created, authorities did half the job of protesters for them by effectively shutting down the city. Places often bustling with tourists and traffic were virtual ghost towns, as many people wanted to avoid dealing with the drama a meeting of world leaders who often ignore their subjects creates.
On Saturday, May 19th, activists who came to Chicago to protest the NATO summit held over the weekend headed to the city’s north side in a show of solidarity with local activists fighting to save six neighborhood mental health clinics already closed or slated for closure. Photos by Aaron Cynic, more atDiatribe Media.
During the months of buildup to the summit, local activists managed to connect NATO to a host of issues which affect the residents of Chicago on a daily basis. Our mayor and city can afford to pay for the 1% to play, but can’t afford to fix our crumbling school system, mental health care system, public transportation and more. Members of various activist groups, including the Mental Health Movement, Stand Up Chicago, Occupy Chicago and many more staged countless marches, rallies, sit ins and occupations.
Two local clinics closed by the city still have a 24 hour presence maintained outside their barred doors. A coalition called CANG8 and Occupy Chicago both spent months making banners, obtaining permits, planning routes and rallying activists to shout through the streets in one clear, deafening voice “NONATO.” Meanwhile, the city prepared for war, militarizing its police force with shiny new “less than lethal” weapons, body armor, and surveillance equipment to confront what most activists were planning as a peaceful protest.
The march continued snaking through the streets for hours, and the crowd slowly dissipated, but hundreds still swarmed the streets. Eventually, at another point where protesters were stopped, a Chicago police van attempted to push its way through the crowd. As protesters attempted to stop the van from pushing its way through demonstrators, the driver hit the accelerator, striking at least two people and sending one to the hospital.
These instances and others were the catalyst for the mood of Sunday’s march on McCormick Place, where more than ten thousand marched for miles down Michigan Avenue to show their disapproval for NATO. The main march was completely peaceful and permitted, but as we drew nearer to the end point, one could feel the tension on both sides of police lines. A group of veterans ceremoniously threw medals they had been awarded in the direction of their generals from a makeshift stage, each telling their story of why they no longer wanted them.
A woman from Afghans For Peace spoke of the continued struggle Afghan people face under NATO occupation. Well before the planned conclusion of the rally, police began massing, riot gear at the ready, and the more militant marchers readied themselves for an imminent confrontation everyone seemed to know would take place when dispersal orders went down.
Thousands of people streamed out of the area while others decided to stay and attempt to push forward, towards the actual location of the summit, and the gloves came off. Police wielded their batons indiscriminately, striking protesters, journalists and legal observers. Protesters pushed back, flinging a barricade at one point, throwing bottles at another. Many were injured or arrested. The area was cordoned off, no one was allowed in or out. Friends, family and colleagues were cut off from information regarding their brothers and sisters, and the predictions of blood staining the streets of Chicago came true. In the aftermath, protesters regrouped and led non-permitted marches through The Loop. On Sunday evening, they converged on the Art Institute, where Michelle Obama hosted dinner for NATO dignitaries. The mood was tense. Throughout the rest of the summit, protesters and police played cat and mouse games in the streets, but thankfully, the same level of violence did not occur.
On Monday, they marched on Boeing headquarters to highlight the corporation’s connection to the military industrial complex, and later held a press conference which turned into a dance party in front of President Obama’s campaign headquarters. In the evening, a few hundred marched through the loop to protest the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office, responsible for so many detentions and deportations.
What I witnessed on the streets of my city for nearly a week showed the dichotomy which exists between the state and those who want to change or completely oppose it. Activists who fight for change always face intimidation tactics. But the larger the organization, the harder the push back. Fighting city hall to keep a mental health clinic open or create an encampment in the park was difficult enough, but fighting a global war machine engendered a reaction the likes of which some people had never seen.
Still, activists persevered, adapted, and took care of each other. When I ran out of water, everyone from legal observers to masked anarchists were happy to share what little they had left. When various protesters faced targeted arrests, others stepped in to try to prevent them. Hundreds marched for miles to show solidarity at the jail the arrested were taken. Street medics took care of the injured and reminded the exhausted of the wellness center created for them. Independent journalists from all over the world banded together in solidarity, sharing information, looking after each other and supporting those who were targeted for surveillance or arrest by law enforcement. People who were relative strangers before they hit the streets together shared some of the longest and most caring hugs I have ever seen.
Photo by Paul Weiskel.
If it’s one thing I can take away from observing, writing about, and participating in the protests at the NATO summit, it’s that creating community will be what saves the world. Systems of alliances and mutual defense pacts continue the same “us versus them” Cold War mentality which has left the world littered with a class structure that no state can fix. But while the rich and powerful ate well and sat in comfortable air conditioning moving pawns across their chessboards, those in the streets forged friendships and shared struggles which created bonds that will outlast any empire.
Chicago, IL – The action that had taken up much of the first part of my day had gone down in my personal history as one of the most civilized political protests I’d ever participated in (see previous post). It was in a great neighborhood – the mayor’s – in the midst of a handsome tree-lined street, which provided just the right amount of shade. The neighbors we surprisingly happy to see us, which is testament to how popular Rahm Emanuel is in his own hood. There was lots of beautiful flowering shrubbery, albeit with riot cops popping up out of it at regular intervals, and vendors were serving ice cream and fruit popsicles out of carts.
Afterwards I’d hopped onto a train and returned to 99% Solidarity’s temporary base to edit images and exploit their wi-fi so I could upload them. I’d also intended to post an updated blog, but then shit started hitting the proverbial fan…
I first began to realize that something was awry when several sources warned me it might be best if I refrained from attending a National Streamers Meeting that was planned for that evening. Then Twitter started to explode with news that superstar livestreamer Tim Pool’s (aka @Timcast) Chicago lodging had been surrounded and searched. Later Pool tweeted that his car had been stopped and that he, fellow streamer Luke Rudkowski a.k.a. @Lukewearechange, and three others has been detained by CPD at gunpoint (see video below). Other 140 character or less posts confirmed the monitoring, detainment and/or arrest of several other online personalities and streamers.
Justified paranoia set in amongst their ranks as they realized they may have become targets of a coordinated effort to silence the truly free media. @YourAnonNewsperhaps summed it up best, when they called it a “a war on bloggers.”
The rationale for this strategy became all too apparent after two marches – one in support of the NATO 3 who had been arrested earlier in the day and another against police brutality – converged and rapidly devolved into a brutal cat and mouse game. After several hours, the police kettled increasingly panicked protesters in Millennium Park.
At this point, I got a call from one of our #CaliDST members @TRWBS, who’d been shooting at close quarters when a police van had seemingly deliberately plowed down a protester (he was later identified as Jack Amico of Occupy Wall Street). @TRWBS’ footage of the incident was among the first to be archived, and rapidly went viral (see video below). There were numerous other images being posted of shocking uses of force, arrests, and bloody injuries.
Video streaming by Ustream
Like a deer in headlights, at one point I just sat head in hands, overwhelmed by what was coming through on the various Twitter and Livestreams. Events were unfolding faster than I could process them. I was at a loss for words, so I stopped even trying to type. And just when I thought shit couldn’t get crazier, it did.
Likely panicked by footage of the carnage on the street, which by now had hit the mainstream news, a call came into 99% Solidarity’s base saying that the bus company had cancelled all of the NNU-sponsored buses which had been booked to transport protesters from Occupy Chicago’s Convergence Center to the main #M20 #NoNATO rally at Grant Park the next day. The tone of the bus coordinator’s voice, which I overheard as it was broadcast on speakerphone, said more than any of the words he actually used as he laid out a litany of so last minute they were implausible excuses as to why suddenly absolutely none of the fleet of 14 buses would be available the next day.
With chaos still raining on the streets, I monitored the livestreams to make sure my fearless #CaliDST friends were OK. One by one they signed off for the night, and as the Twitterverse calmed down I finally succumbed to sleep.
Full disclosure: Nicole Powers has been assisting with 99% Solidarity’s efforts and is in no way an impartial observer. She is proud of this fact.
99Solidarity Occu-Bus: Day 1 Of Our Epic Coast-To-Coast Road Trip From Los Angeles To New York By Way Of Chicago
99Solidarity Occu-Bus: Day 2 Of Our Epic Coast-To-Coast Road Trip From Los Angeles To New York By Way Of Chicago
99Solidarity Occu-Bus: Day 3 Of Our Epic Coast-To-Coast Road TripFrom Los Angeles To New York By Way Of Chicago
99Solidarity Occu-Bus: Day 4 (Pt. 1) Of Our Epic Coast-To-Coast Road Trip From Los Angeles To New York By Way Of Chicago
Chicago, IL- I’m sharing this story in order to give credit where credit is due, and to express my love and appreciation for a fellow Occupier, who always goes above and beyond the call.
On Sunday, my friend, and fellow Occupier, Matt, bravely stood up to a white shirt, to negotiate my entrance into an alley where protesters were seriously injured.
Most of our friends were trapped inside a massive kettle, and the police were continuing to push most of us back. A handful of injured protesters had been helped into a triage area by street medics, at the mouth of an alleyway. The police were in head busting mode, and just talking to them felt dangerous.
There were too few medics in the triage area, and the police had just barricaded the alley. The medics inside were crying out for more assistance. I tried to talk my way in, but the police, including the white shirts, would not listen.
Matt appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, and approached one of the white shirts, to ask that I be allowed inside. The exchange was obviously quite contentious. I didn’t hear everything that was said, but the white shirt eventually barked, “Okay, just her,” and ordered the blue shirts move the barricade. I looked back at my friends, and with mutual worry in our eyes, we parted ways, and I darted forward.
In that alley, we had three bloody head injuries, and one blunt force trauma injury to the chest. The police would not let EMS anywhere near us. We tried calling 911 dispatch, but to no avail. The police had total control of the next street over, so there was absolutely no excuse for their actions. We were told we had to move these people.
Patients with head injuries, for the record, should not be moved in this way. One man began to vomit the moment he stood up. We were told to take them all the way to State Street. One of the out of town medics gave me a street medic patch to put on, as I had no red tape on, at the time. I have various certifications, but I hadn’t planned on acting as a medic that day. Ultimately, I had little choice, as the police had kettled numerous medics, and restricted the movements of others. They had injured peaceful protesters, and then kept medical assistance at bay.
I have witnessed police brutality, and general indifference to suffering, in the past, but I must admit that this experience got under my skin in a way that others have not. It’s actually very hard to put into words. The memory of it feels like a wound that will probably take some time to heal. I suppose I am fortunate. The bruises I suffered that day are quite minor, compared to some.
I suppose I am also fortunate, as are we all, that people like Matt are part of this struggle. Occupiers like him make this fight possible, and remind me that no matter what happens, we still have each other.
To anyone who is still naive enough to believe that the police are our potential allies… I can’t begin to tell you how wrong you are.
To Matt… thank you for being brave, and for being strong, and for looking out for your fellow protesters. You are an inspiration, and I’m proud to stand alongside you.