May 22, 2012
Mayor Emanuel is congratulating himself for a successful NATO summit – successful mainly because no disasters occurred, though the only real threats seem to have been those manufactured by police.
No doubt the black bloc is also congratulating itself that day-after front pages carried pictures of scuffles with police, rather than veterans returning their medals with members of Afghans For Peace looking on, certainly the most moving and meaningful drama of the weekend.
What would a real accounting of the summit’s costs and benefits look like?
“Obama projects desired image,” the Sun-Times titles one story, but the summit itself had some signal failures. Two major goals – getting commitments from member states to fund the next phase of the war in Afghanistan, and reopening supply routes through Pakistan – did not pan out.
The protests cast a long shadow over Obama’s attempt to play the summit as a withdrawal from Afghanistan for the domestic audience (while lining up support from other countries for continuing operations).
Unfortunately for Emanuel’s legacy, the “Chicago Accord” that he was boasting last week would be signed at the summit – an agreement on how to proceed on Afghanistan – wasn’t to be, Rick Rozoff of Stop NATO points out.
Even the summit’s biggest actual accomplishment – the announcement that NATO’s missile defense system is going online – comes with no noticeable benefit and at great cost: major tensions with Russia, whose cooperation is needed for the alternative supply route to Afghanistan, Rozoff says.
He points out that the announcement included new plans for satellite technology, which he calls a fulfillment of Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars dreams, and a dangerous and costly step toward the militarization of space.
Largest anti-NATO protest ever
Meanwhile, NATO was subject to a great deal of negative attention – and Chicago hosted the largest anti-NATO demonstration in the entire history of the alliance, Rozoff said.
(Four city blocks – a half mile – of marchers filling four lanes of State Street probably amounts to two or three times the police/media estimate of 3,000 protestors.)
And there’s renewed attention to the obscene amounts the U.S. and NATO nations spend on armaments. This at a time when suffering from a lingering economic crisis continues to grow, when cities and states are mired in crisis and slashing public services – and while Obama’s defense secretary is opposing relatively minor spending cuts agreed to in last year’s budget deal.
The media tends to see the protestors as bearing a confusing mish-mash of causes. But listen to them and you see that they are all connected on a fundamental level. At the Grant Park rally on Sunday, speaker after speaker tied issue after issue to the question of war and militarization.
N’Dana Carter of the Mental Health Movement pointed out that there are 30,000 Illinois National Guard members returning from war who have no access to VA care – and if Emanuel succeeds in closing mental health centers, “there will be no one to take care of them.”
“As long as there is war and poverty, there will be immigrants,” said Tania Unzueta of the Immigrant Youth Justice League. “And long as there are deportations, there will be resistance,” she said, excoriating Obama for stepping up deportations to unprecedented levels.
“I’m angry because the people in power haven’t been listening to us,” said Angela Walker with ATU Local 998, representing Milwaukee bus drivers. “We have been demanding an end to these wars for a decade and we’re still there.
“I stand in solidarity with the rights of Afghan women – their rights are not debatable,” she said. “I am a union worker in Wisconsin – our rights are not debatable.”
Declared Walker: “I’m here because there should not be a single homeless veteran in this country.”
Protests target Emanuel too
Mayor Emanuel also came in for a lot of negative attention. Many protestors’ signs targeted the mayor; one said “Donate Rahm to Afghanistan.” Rocker Tom Morello taunted the mayor at the nurses’ rally Friday. A huge, colorful, spirited crowd marched on his home Saturday, bringing more notice to his draconian mental health cuts, under the banner of “Health Care Not Warfare.”
The larger disparities and inequities in the city did not entirely escape attention, either. Reporting on Grassroots Collaborative’s “Real Chicago” bus tour, the Guardian noted the irony of NATO promising “peace through security” in a city where, in minority neighborhoods, “neither exists.” Murders are up in Chicago by 50 percent over last year (the city’s rate is nearly twice as high as New York’s), and insecurity correlates closely with race and poverty. One third of African American residents live in poverty; black infant mortality is “on a par with the West Bank,” and black life expectancy in Chicago is lower than Egypt’s.
One wonders how Emanuel’s backers – the CEOs who donated millions from their corporate coffers to finance this extravanza – feel about the idea now. Monday morning’s headlines did nothing to burnish the city’s reputation. The $128 million that summit boosters said would be injected into the city’s economy turned out to be a figment of their imagination. Downtown restaurants actually reported a “slump.”
And Monday, host committee donor Boeing was shut down by protestors highlighting its arms production and its tax evasion – a level of attention the corporation has avoided during its years in Chicago. Might Boeing and others like it have been just as happy to have the summit somewhere else?
Expect the next NATO summit to be far, far away. Perhaps, next time, at an undisclosed location.