May 24, 2012 1
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May 23, 2012 7
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.”
“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.
May 22, 2012 0
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.
May 19, 2012 4
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.
May 19, 2012 0
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.]
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.
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).
May 16, 2012 0
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.”
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.
May 14, 2012 Comments Off
By hosting a self-proclaimed “nuclear alliance” like NATO, Chicago is violating the spirit if not the letter of the city’s status as a nuclear free zone, passed unanimously by the City Council in 1986 and signed by Mayor Harold Washington, says Rick Rozoff.
It’s one of dozens of points that came up in several wide-ranging talks with Rozoff, a Chicagoan who for 13 years has edited the Stop NATO blog, almost certainly the most comprehensive source for news and critical analysis of the alliance in the world.
On Thursday, Rozoff and a representative of Iraq Veterans Against the War will take the anti-NATO position in a debate with former Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns and NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary James Appathurai at the Pritzker Military Library.
Making war around the world
Stop NATO started in 1999, a watershed year according to Rozoff, when NATO launched its first war, a 78-day bombing campaign against Yugoslavia. That’s the point at which NATO moved beyond its posture as a strictly defensive organization protecting its members’ territories to become “an active war-making organization” – and when promises of post-Cold War demilitarization and a “peace dividend” were betrayed, he says.
Since then NATO has conducted wars in Asia and Africa – a brutal ten-year slog with heavy civilian casulaties in Afghanistan, NATO’s first ground war, and a six-month bombing campaign in Libya.
Despite the unprecedented presence of 150,000 troops from 50 nations (including NATO members and partners) waging war in a single, relatively small country, Afghanistan is widely viewed as a defeat for the alliance. NATO claims Libya as a victory, though the nation is now dominated by fundamentalists and riven by clan wars, with instability spreading to other African nations, Rozoff points out.
Global expeditionary force
A major function of these wars, he argues, is to integrate the militaries of NATO members and scores of partner nations into a “global expeditionary force,” with small countries enlisted in efforts to ensure Western access to resources and hem in nations with independent foreign policies –notably Russia, China, and Iran.
NATO’s expanded military alliance “puts smaller countries in the position of having to respond when the major powers call for assistance,” obliges them to accept U.S. and NATO bases on their territory, and requires them to purchase advanced weaponry – which they don’t need and can’t afford – from Western nations, Rozoff says.
May 13, 2012 0
Drone warfare will be an issue at the NATO summit, though it’s a far more urgent one for many of NATO’s critics.
NATO will review the strategic agreement between the U.S. and Afghanistan, which will allow drone attacks to continue, despite Afghanistan’s attempt to negotiate an end to them. NATO will also review a deal reached earlier this year for members to kick in $1.4 billion to start building its own drone force.
Drone war is also behind the decision not to invite Pakistan to the Chicago summit, although the nation is one of dozens of NATO “partners,” and an important one. The U.S. reportedly pressed for its exclusion because Pakistan refused to reopen NATO supply routes closed after a U.S. drone attack killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last November.
Pakistan, previously in tacit support of the drone war, has now demanded it be ended, to no avail.
Pakistan’s exclusion from the summit “makes the whole thing a farce,” said Pakistani-American human rights activist Rafia Zakaria. “You’re supposed to be figuring out the future of the Afghanistan mission and the negotiations with the Taliban, and you don’t have the country that’s integral to all of that.”
The book is an attempt “to make the American people aware of how counterproductive drone warfare is, how many innocent civilians it kills, how it creates blowback and anti-U.S. sentiment – and to get more people involved in calling for an end to it,” Benjamin said.
Code Pink has protested at drone bases, as has the locally-based group Voices for Creative Nonviolence. Last month VCNV and grassroots peace groups in Missouri, upstate New York, and Wisconsin held protests and committed civil disobedience at air bases where drones are maintained and deployed.
They delivered a war crimes indictment charging the U.S. chain of command, from the president on down, with violations of U.S. and international law including “extrajudicial killings, violation of due process, wars of aggression, violation of national sovereignty, and the killing of innocent civilians.”
Kathy Kelly of VCNV said she and colleagues “have been in Pakistan and Afghanistan and become aware of how much fear and mistrust the drone attacks have caused. We’ve talked to people who’ve lost loved ones” in drone attacks. One young girl she met in an Afghan refugee camp lost an arm in a drone attack; her brother was seriously injured; her uncle lost his wife and five daughters.