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 -