Do protests and marches accomplish anything? Should I go? These questions collided in my head. One friend advised against. Another said I should. My children phoned, “If you do, be careful.” I knew. I just knew. I knew I would be in Chicago.
I arrived last Saturday, and after checking in at a hotel fairly close to the location of the NATO extravaganza, I wandered the eerily quiet area. Security was thick. Clusters of Illinois State Police, with police dogs, scrutinized. I smiled and nodded.
On my way back to the hotel, I saw two musclemen, wearing school bus yellow shirts on which “SECURITY” was stitched thickly in black. Buckled around their waists were black leather tool belts with pouches that carried instruments of destruction. I thought of mutant, killer bumblebees.
“Why so armed and dangerous?” I asked.
“We’re looking for you.”
“You found me.”
“Are you a protester?”
“Yup, and I’m protesting FOR you, nonviolently.”
They smiled, and one said, “You’re the kind of protester I like.” No, you don’t like me, I thought. I knew they didn’t comprehend the meaning of my declaration. If they and the police officers did, they’d be marching with the protesters.
I would learn the next day just how much they like the power they wield for the warmongers.
Directionally challenged, I left early to take the train to meet Debra Sweet and other members of World Can’t Wait for dinner. On the Brown Line platform, I saw a group with antiwar pins and peace shirts. Engaging them in conversation, I learned they’d driven 24 hours from Utah to protest.
Next day, I walked to Grant Park for the rally that preceded the march. I took photos of people, signs, and banners, and talked with peace pals I’ve known for years. I asked permission and received a yes to photograph a disabled vet in a wheelchair, someone with a different perspective. He wore his medals and the sign he held said:
And if you don’t like it
Juxtapose this with the poignant and solemn procession of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who, now, oppose war. Later, at the end of the march, they would throw their medals near McCormick Place where NATO leaders were meeting. Each veteran made a statement, some apologizing to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, denouncing policies, lies, and the “global war on terrorism, and praising Bradley Manning for his courage. Many voiced a need to heal.
Vince Emanuele said, “My name is Vince Emanuele, and I served with the United States Marine Corps. First and foremost, this is for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. Second of all, this is for our real forefathers. I’m talking about the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. I’m talking about the Black Panthers. I’m talking about the civil rights movement. I’m talking about unions. I’m talking about our socialist brothers and sisters, our communist brothers and sisters, our anarchist brothers and sisters, and our ecology brothers and sisters. That’s who our real forefathers are. And lastly—and lastly and most importantly, our enemies are not 7,000 miles from home. They sit in boardrooms. They are CEOs. They are bankers. They are hedge fund managers. They do not live 7,000 miles from home. Our enemies are right here, and we look at them every day. They are not the men and women who are standing on this police line. They are the millionaires and billionaires who control this planet, and we’ve had enough of it. So they can take their medals back.”
There was a roster of speakers at the rally, and I listened to a few. Among the most passionate was Zoe Sigmund of Occupy Chicago. It was her home that was raided, leading to a charge of providing material support for terrorism against three of her friends.
She said, “These people were all my friends, people like you and me, people here to protest. This campaign of terror is not over. . . . I’m scared. I don’t have a safe place to stay at night because there is no safe place to stay. . . . People keep asking me, ‘Was it true?’ What they should be asking, what they should be questioning is the ease with which the police get away with terrorism. As tempting as it is to direct my fury at the police, I keep struggling to remind myself that they were not independent agents acting with a personal vendetta. It is in the mayor’s and the president’s best interest to persuade us from resisting the war machine.”
And I met Michael who was shirtless. He carried on one shoulder a drone, crafted from duct tape and wood. I asked the Christ-like young man if this was his cross to bear. He said, “Yes.”
After the rally, people moved to the street to begin the march. All was peaceful. Police officers bookended, some tasked with videoing the protesters. Eventually, I left the street to run along the sidewalk, taking more photographs. Finally, I walked back to my hotel, exhausted and realizing I hadn’t eaten anything all day except a vegan granola bar.
I went downstairs to the lobby and asked if there was a place nearby where I could get a salad. Directed to an Italian restaurant in the hotel, I entered and saw a television set above the bar, blaring news that the march had become violent. I asked if I could sit at the bar. And as I ate and had a glass of wine, I watched in horror as police in full-riot gear and helmets with blue shields to protest themselves from teargas used their “bully” clubs to beat people with whom I had just marched.
I sat there. I just sat at the bar, staring at the set. And I thought about my original question: Do protests and marches accomplish anything? I concluded they do. Media were present from all over the world. And the Internet would be abuzz with reports of the savagery. People in the countries we’ve invaded and occupied, people in the countries that NATO “leaders” are plotting to invade and occupy would see that we the people oppose and are willing to risk bludgeoning and arrest to end war. This is not insignificant.
Missy Comley Beattie lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Email: email@example.com.