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U.S. Activists Use NATO Summit To Make Their Case

  • Heather Maher

Chicago protesters Jill McLaughling (left) and Barbara Lyons of The World Can't Wait are using the NATO summit to protest the alliance's actions in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Chicago protesters Jill McLaughling (left) and Barbara Lyons of The World Can't Wait are using the NATO summit to protest the alliance's actions in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

CHICAGO -- Thousands of Americans have traveled to the Midwestern U.S. city of Chicago to take part in protests surrounding this weekend's NATO leaders' summit meeting.

From schoolteachers to nurses, antipoverty demonstrators to peace protesters, activists for a range of causes are vying for the attention of the international press corps, which has arrived to chronicle the military alliance meeting.

On May 18, some 2,500 people protested peacefully against economic inequality in what city police say was the largest demonstration so far in a week of daily protests against everything from immigration policy to military spending.

The city of Chicago, the nation's third-largest, has gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure that the protests don't devolve into violence or disrupt the summit. It has spent nearly $1 million to buy new riot gear and brought in thousands of additional reinforcement officers from nearby cities.

Memories of looting and smashed shop windows during the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, and serious street violence at the 2009 NATO summit in Strasbourg, France, has prompted stiff security measures that Chicago officials say will inconvenience city dwellers and commuters during the two-day summit but ensure a high standard of safety for visiting foreign delegations.

Chicago protester Bryan Pfiefer

Chicago protester Bryan Pfiefer

For their part, protest organizers have promised to demonstrate peacefully, but acts of civil disobedience are expected -- including an attempt to shut down the offices of aircraft manufacturing giant Boeing on May 21. A handful of protesters who tried to enter the headquarters of U.S. President Barack Obama's reelection campaign were arrested earlier in the week.

Some of the demonstrators who turned out this week in Chicago spoke to RFE/RL.

Jill McLaughlin,44, of The World Can't Wait: "We're primarily focused on saying to our government, 'What you're doing in Afghanistan is wrong, it's immoral, it's illegal.' Almost every week there are civilians killed by these drone bombings in Afghanistan or Pakistan. Indefinite detention and torture, Bagram detention center is holding over 2,000 [people], mostly men, most of them rounded up on the most erroneous evidence, and they have no way of answering to their charges, they're not represented, there's no voice for them.

"And so we here in this country, we have to speak out against the crimes of our government under U.S., NATO domination. We want the people of Afghanistan, the people of Pakistan, the people of Yemen, to know that there are people in this country who are not going along with the crimes of this government."

Barbara Lyons, 75, also of The World Can't Wait: "Our particular focus in the parade is going to be on the drones. We have these banners with every language. We have the same banner with Urdu, and Farsi and eight different languages. And then we're going to have people dressed in shrouds and we're going to have people in orange jumpsuits.

"The drones are not protecting us and it's like killing from afar. So Americans, we can be nice and safe. And yet they found that the soldiers that man these stations that send the drones out, they have as much stress, post-traumatic stress, as soldiers in the field."

Bryan Pfiefer, 38, of Bail Out the People Not the Banks: "The banks have caused a crisis worldwide. They are responsible for looting nations around the world through war. What's going to happen, as we see here in Chicago, is the people are going to take over and run the world in their own interest, where people have the right to health care, where people have the right to housing, and people have the right to union jobs.

Chris McKay

Chris McKay

"This entire week we're here to say that we want a different world. We want a world where the money is spent on housing and health care and people's needs, and where people aren't slaughtered in Afghanistan and Iraq and around the world just to make banks and just to make corporations rich. We're here to say we want a different world."

Chris McKay, 44, of Occupy San Diego: "The country's really messed up, we really have to do something and it's the responsibility of everybody right now, everybody. I don't care who you are -- get out on the streets, man, cause the government is really messing you up.

"Your children and your grandchildren and your great grandchildren, their future is bad. I know already my life will never be as good as my father's, economically. And if that happens for me, what happens for the next generation and the next generation? I mean, minimum wage? You can't live on minimum wage."

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