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Chicago Spring

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A May Day march and rally [2] by Occupy Chicago on Tuesday launches the final weeks of the Chicago Spring [3], culminating with protests at the NATO summit later this month.

With the theme of immigrant, labor, and youth solidarity, an array of community groups and unions will rally at noon (Tuesday, May 1) at Union Park, 1501 W. Randolph, and march to the Federal Plaza, Adams and Dearborn.

Though it continues a recent Chicago tradition of immigrant rights marches on May Day going back to 2006, it was initiated by Occupy Chicago [4], and in particular the group’s labor committee, said Orlando Sepulvida of Occupy the Barrio [5].  Strong union involvement in the march is the result of interest on the part of rank-and-file union members participating in Occupy, he said.

“After six years, [the issue of immigration reform] is not resolved, and in some ways it is worse now for undocumented families,” said Sepulvida, who has been involved in the marches going back to 2006.

Questions about whether Occupy Chicago would last out its first winter were answered when an estimated 1,000 people participated in an April 7 “Freedom Festival” in Grant Park, with teach-ins on topics including non-violent direct action, the “black bloc,” NATO, and “Mayor 1 Percent’s Budget of Austerity.”

Moving to indoor quarters allowed the group to hold a steady series of educational events and strengthen a network of working committees, according to Mark Cassello at Indignant Left [6].  Chicago Spring and the NATO protest are making Chicago “the national hub of the Occupy movement this spring,” Costello writes.

Peoples Summit

A People’s Summit [7] on May 12 and 13, at Occupy Chicago’s space at 500 W. Cermak, will kick off a week of actions leading up to the May 20 NATO summit protest.

Co-sponsored by Occupy Chicago and the Coalition Against NATO/G8 [8], the summit will feature dozens of workshops and talks by Rev. Jesse Jackson, Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence (a frequent visitor to Afghanistan), Medea Benjamin of Code Pink, and Reiner Braun of No To NATO.

The keynoter will be Malalai Joya, a former member of the Afghan Parliament and women’s rights crusader.  In her early 20s, under Taliban rule, she set up a secret school for girls.  Elected to Parliament in 2005, she was expelled in 2007 after denouncing the presence of warlords and war criminals in the body, and causing a near-riot.  She has survived several assassination attempts.

“For ten years U.S. policymakers have misused the plight of Afghan women as an excuse to advance the war in Afghanistan,” Joya has said.  “Your governments have replaced the fundamentalist rule of the Taliban with another fundamentalist regime of warlords.  That is what your soldiers are dying for.”

Week of action

The week of action demonstrates Occupy Chicago’s capacity for connecting with organizing efforts in local communities.

On Monday, May 14, Occupy Chicago plans an action at a South Side school highlighting disinvestment in neighborhood schools, according to Brian Bean of the group’s summit working group; a May 15 an action with the theme “No human being is illegal” will draw connections between border walls impacting Mexican-Americans and Palestinians (who commemorate the date as Nakba Day), he said.

On Wednesday, May 16, Occupy Chicago and anti-eviction groups will march on Sheriff Tom Dart, calling on him to reinstate a moratorium on foreclosures; on Thursday, May 17, an environmental action will target NATO member Canada, which is promoting tar sands oil, which environmentalists call “the world’s dirtiest oil.”  And Saturday the 19th, an action highlighting the closing of mental health clinics is planned, Bean said.

On Friday, May 18, National Nurses United [9] and other groups will rally at Daley Plaza at 12:15 p.m., focusing on the union’s call for a financial transaction tax that could raise $350 billion a year as an alternative to austerity policies.

Counter-summit for peace

On Friday and Saturday, May 18 and 19,  a Counter-Summit for Peace and Economic Justice [10] will be held by the American Friends Service Committee [11] and the Network for a NATO-Free Future [12] at the People’s Church, 941 W. Lawrence.  It will feature experts and activists from around the world, including author Tom Hayden (of Chicago 7 fame), Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies, Sarita Gupta of Jobs With Justice, and Saraia Saher of Afghans for Peace.

“NATO’s new role as a global military alliance” – and U.S. and NATO plans to maintain troops in Afghanistan for another decade — will be examined, along with “campaigns to bring the troops home and to create a future free of wars, occupation and the costs of a militarized foreign policy.”

Sunday, May 20 is the big march starting at noon from Grant Park to McCormick Place, where the NATO summit will be getting started.  It will be led off by a contingent of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, who will call out NATO generals for a ceremony returning their Global War on Terror medals.

Endless war

“What is the strategy? No one can articulate it,” says  Aaron Hughes of Iraq Veterans Against the War [13], pointing out that the new U.S.-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership agreement will allow thousands of U.S. and NATO troops to remain (and continue controversial night raids) after official withdrawal of combat troops. “How many more people are going to have to suffer in this endless war?”  IVAW is calling for immediate withdrawal.

Speakers at the Grant Park rally will include Rev. Jesse Jackson, Malalai Joya, Kathy Kelly and others, according to Eric Rudder of CANG8.

And that’s not all.  With the NATO summit concluding May 21, Occupy Chicago is planning an action day for democracy for Monday that will target Boeing Corporation on three issues, according to Bean: it’s record of tax avoidance, its role as supplier of weapons for NATO adventures, and its lead in the NATO host committee.

“They’ve raised $55 million to wine and dine these warmongers, while we’re closing clinics to save $3 million,” Bean said.  “It’s obscene.”