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NATO round-up

Stop NATO has a roundup of national and international coverage of the Chicago summit.

Favorite trivia:  Georgia President Shaakashvili calls NATO “more relevant now than ever” and Occupy protestors “relics of the past.”  Is it possible he could have that backwards?

From 1968, a long view on movement building

After demonstrators were arrested and roughed up in an unsuccessful attempt to march to McCormick Place on Sunday, I thought it would be interesting to check in with Mel Rothenberg.  He has the distinction of leading the only demonstration that succeeded in marching to the International Ampitheatre, where the Democratic National Convention was being held, in 1968.

Now a retired professor, Rothenberg has been politically active through the intervening decades, most recently with Chicago Jobs With Justice and the Chicago Political Economy Group.  This gives him a long view on movement building and social change. (He and I worked together on the Chicago bureau of the Guardian, the independent radical newsweekly published in New York, in the 1980s.)

Chicago 1968 “was very different,” he says.  “It was a shock.  Everybody, the demonstrators and cops, were uncertain about what would happen.” At last weekend’s NATO protest, “both the authorities and the demonstration organizers had much more control of the street action, and the media had already orchestrated its coverage ahead of time.”

Big differences

“In 1968 the mayor was completely unprepared and the city was completely on edge,” he says.  In contrast to media pre-coverage this time – featuring scary headlines which almost surely depressed turnout – in 1968 “the media was trying to keep things calm, pretending nothing was going to happen.”

Also different was the police department: “In ’68 there was a lot of overt racism in the department — the Klan was operating openly; there were conflicts within the police department.” There had been major riots in Watts, Detroit, Newark. “The authorities were in a panic.  There were National Guard and state police, and it looked like for a while that the city would be put under martial law.”

Rothenberg helped organizet the Bourbaki Brigade, a contingent of mathematicians, who marched about 100-strong through Bridgeport to the Ampitheatre at 42nd and Halsted.  “It was very tense,” he recalls.  “There were neighborhood thugs threatening us, and the police in between, both protecting us and threatening us.”

The police “were making decisions on the spur of the moment – they didn’t know what was happening either – and they decided to let us through; we were a small group and not very threatening, mathematicians, college professors.”

The next day was supposed to be the big march to the convention site.  “It was supposed to be peaceful.  We brought our kids.”  A huge crowd gathered in the park across from the Conrad Hilton, and someone (later revealed to be a police infiltrator) climbed the flagpole and took down the American flag.  “That was the signal, they attacked us, there was tear gas, there was chaos.”

A big flop

This year, he says, “I don’t think Obama or NATO came out very well.  All the attention was on the demonstrators. The summit was a big flop.”

“There was no popular support in Chicago for NATO, no outpouring of sentiment to support NATO.” And “no one except city officials and p.r. people thought it was going to help the city.  It was a bust from the point of view of helping the local economy or getting favorable international attention to Chicago.”

“About the only thing they accomplished was to avoid a disaster,” Rothenberg said.

As for the protests, they turned out thousands of people – certainly far more than the 2,000 reported by the police – and wove together a range of social concerns with the issues of war and militarization.

But Rothenberg says there needs to be more attention to building a sustainable movement that goes beyond occasional demonstrations to actually challenging and changing policies.

Read the rest of this entry »

Not NATO’s kind of town

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.

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Whose firebombs?

The Associated Press has the best report I’ve seen about the alleged firebombing conspiracy in Bridgeport, noting that defense lawyers say there were police infiltrators who stayed in the targeted apartments, and that they were the ones who brought the firebombs there.

(The Sun Times reports that undercover officers were present when the alleged firebombs were made, presenting that fact as evidence for the veracity of the charges.)

“Longtime observers of police tactics said the operation seemed similar to those conducted by authorities in other cities before similarly high-profile events,” according to the AP.

AP cites the RNC 8 – eight young people involved in planning protests at the Republican National Convention in 2008 who were charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism under Minnesota’s PATRIOT Act.  When it was finally resolved, five accepted plea deals for misdemeanor conspiracy to damage property – one got 91 days, the others no jail time – and charges were dropped against the other three.

Kind of not such a big deal as the initial headlines would have indicated.

Chicago police have a long history of infiltrating peaceful protest groups and fomenting violence – it’s one reason the Red Squad was banned by a federal court order (later lifted at the request of Mayor Daley) – and infiltration of protest groups seems to be standard operating procedure for “national security events.”

And nationally since 9/11, an embarrassing proportion of “anti-terrorism” cases have involved plots proposed, planned, and enabled by police agents. That seems to have been the case – in just the past month — with the Wrigley bomber as well as the alleged bombing plot of a group of Cleveland anarchists who supposedly “discussed” disrupting the NATO summit. Sometimes you wonder whether such efforts are directed at keeping us safe or “putting points on the board” – or, when big protests are planned, generating scare headlines.

“This is just propaganda to create a climate of fear and to create this public perception that protests are violent,” said Michael Deutsch of the National Lawyers Guild.

Read the rest of this entry »

Real news on NATO

For a larger perspective and real global context regarding the NATO summit itself — beyond official press briefings — there’s no source like the Stop NATO website, profiled here last week.  Here are some recent stories; click on titles for the full entries.

[Also, do not miss “My Kind of (NATO) Town,” the highly informative and highly readable perspective offered by Asia Times’ correspondent Pepe Excobar via Al Jazeera; it’s clear that a  Escobar is a reader of Stop NATO.]

May 19

Video: Nurses lead thousands in anti-NATO march

Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting in Beijing

A meeting of foreign ministers in Beijing – prelude to an SCO summit June 6-7 (just before the international conference on Afghanistan June 14 in Kabul) – indicated increased cooperation on foreign policy, including united opposition to the U.S./NATO anti-ballistic missile program which is being promoted in Chicago (Russia & India Report).

SCO includes Russia, China, and four Central Asian nations; India, Pakistan, Iran and Mongolia have observer status (membership requests from India and Pakistan are under consideration); NATO member Turkey is likely to be granted “dialogue partner” status.

SCO countries should be active participants in international discussions on Afghanistan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said recently.  Moscow and Beijing argue against the continuing presence of foreign troops there.

A draft final declaration was adopted that says “unilateral unlimited expansion of the anti-ballistic missile system may damage international security and strategic stability.”

A consolidated SCO position on anti-ballistic missile systems has the potential to become a significant counterweight to NATO’s plans in this area.

 

SCO could hinder NATO goals in Afghanistan

Leaders of Central Asia states are invited to the Chicago summit in order to get their agreement to host NATO military facilities to accommodate forces being withdrawn from Afghanistan, but the Shanghai Cooperation Organization presents an obstacle (Trend News Agency).

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What about the neighborhoods?

The Grassroots Collaborative is offering visiting journalists bus tours of working-class neighborhoods struggling with violence, foreclosures, and clinic closings — and they’re questioning the millions of dollars being spent on entertainment at the NATO summit.

Buses leave from the Hyatt Regency at 8:15 a.m. on Thursday and Friday, May 17 and 18, and return by 11 a.m.  Information is at thegrassrootscollaborative.org.

Thursday’s tour will cover Little Village, one of the city’s largest Latino neighborhoods, where community groups are working to address youth violence; and Back of the Yards, where one of six mental health centers recently closed by the city is located.

(The two clinics primarily serving Latino communities were closed, as were four of six South Side clinics, and half the bilingual staff was laid off, all to save $3 million.  Having been repeatedly rebuffed in attempts to hold meetings with city officials – including a City Council hearing blocked by the mayor– the Mental Health Movement is planning to march on Mayor Emanuel’s home on Saturday morning.)

Friday morning’s tour will cover Englewood, a poor African-American community hard hit by foreclosures and violence, and Brighton Park, where low-income Latino residents are developing community schools.

Grassroots Collaborative, a citywide coalition of labor and community organizations, is questioning the priorities of spending millions of dollars to host the NATO summit while the city shuts down clinics and schools, said Eric Tellez.

On another level, he said, NATO spends billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars while poverty and unemployment “devastates communities across the country” and “the global poor fall deeper into poverty.”

Party fund

Last month the coalition called on World Business Chicago, which is raising money to host NATO, to donate comparable sums to establish a Neighborhood Jobs Trust.  In recent statements, the group is focusing on the $14 million being spent on parties for the summit.

Read the rest of this entry »

Protestors offered Daley Plaza permit

A California activist who holds a city permit for a rally at Daley Plaza on May 20 has offered to step aside for a local anti-war coalition, organizers say.

The city rejected a permit application from the Coalition Against NATO/G8 to move their rally and march from May 19 – when the G8 summit was originally scheduled to meet – to May 20, when NATO will be convening at McCormick Place, saying someone else has a permit for the Daley Plaza that day.

But CANG8 has heard from the individual holding the permit that she would step aside to accommodate the coalition’s plan, Joe Iosbaker said.  He said the city has been informed of this development.

The city rejected CANG8’s plan for a march from the Daley Plaza to McCormick Place, offering an alternative route that Iosbaker said was unacceptable because  it’s far less visible.  He said city’s argument that it lacks manpower to police the original route is “absurd.”

Coalition questions G8 costs, calls for community investment

Costs for the G8/NATO summit in May could be much higher than current projections from the city, according to a labor-community coalition which is calling for a Chicago G8/NATO Community Fund.

“We think that $65 million is very, very, very low, and based on the experience of other host cities, the actual cost is going to be much higher,” said Elizabeth Parisian, a researcher with Stand Up Chicago.

She said the 2010 G8 summit in Huntsville, Ontario, ended up costing over $1 billion, the bulk of which went to security costs. Costs of housing, transportation and entertainment totaled about $180 million, she said.

Like the upcoming summit, the 2010 G8 was a joint summit (that year it was with the G20), and as expected for the upcoming summit, there were big protests.

Stand Up Chicago is working on developing a more detailed independent cost estimate, Parisian said, but getting information is difficult.

“There’s been no transparency from the city,” she said, adding that “we need to know how much it’s going cost and who’s contributing.”

Last week the Chicago Reader reported that a $55 million federal grant described by officials last year as funding planning for summit security training is actually a routine grant that supports the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications. Security cost estimates will not be released before the summit, OECM told the Reader.

Funding for community needs

In a letter to Mayor Emanuel last week, community, labor, and civil rights groups asked him to call on corporations contributing to the summit host committee to provide matching donations to a community fund “which can be used to keep libraries and mental health clinics open, as well as to provide direct investment in Chicago’s many struggling neighborhoods.”

Six mental health clinics are slated for closing in April for a cost savings of $2 million. Library hours were recently cut in order to save $1 million.

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