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

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.
By Heather Maher
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 PfieferChicago protester Bryan Pfiefer
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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 McKayChris McKay
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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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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Catherine Fitzpatrick from: New York
May 20, 2012 01:12
Yes, some of what the US does is "wrong and immoral," and we should do better, because the world expects us to be better and we are held to a higher standard. And yes, the drones program has involved killing of innocent civilians who haven't been compensated because this program is run under the CIA, which keeps it secret and won't talk to the victims' lawyers. So that needs to change.

Meanwhile, the antiwar movement is as one-sided as it was in the 1960s and 1980s, focusing myopically only on US and Western crimes. The Taliban kills 85 percent of the civilians in Afghanistan. What's the left's plan when NATO leaves and the
Taliban overruns Kabul and destroys secularism again? I'm not suggesting we should stay, but I want to hear the left's plan for opposing terrorism in a world where Russia thwarts our efforts and dominates countries in Central Asia that are poor and vulnerable to spillover from the war in Afghanistan. I want a different world, too, where people don't mindlessly blame the US in wishing that "people aren't slaughtered in Afghanistan and Iraq and around the world just to make banks and just to make corporations rich." That's patently ridiculous. We've only impoverished our own country with these wars and they don't enrich banks -- the terrorists and their supporters in Iran and other authoritarian regimes are the source of the problem. Again, what indeed is the left's plan for addressing this menace?

http://3dblogger.typepad.com/different_stans/2012/05/think-dont-just-link-human-rights-watch-sounds-indistinguishable-from-kremlin-propaganda.html
In Response

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
May 20, 2012 19:09
Dear Ms. Fitzpatrick,

You bring up several good points, but I believe that your thinking is based upon some faulty assumptions. First, who made the US/NATO the global police force? What’s to stop other countries from acting unilaterally and removing their ‘terrorists’ when it serves the ruling elite?

I would say that your belief that the US/NATO are somehow above international law is myopic. Indeed, I think your aspersion that the anti-war movement belongs on the ‘left’ reflects a Cold War trope that is no longer valid. There are plenty on the ‘right’ (whatever that means) who see the futility of what the US/NATO is doing in Afghanistan or that understand that the US is simply spending too much on defense.

Your cheap shot against Russia reflects this worn-out paradigm. Where are the Russians ‘dominating in Central Asia’? What a pernicious comment. Yes, let’s set up the straw-man of an aggressive Kremlin to now justify the madness in Afghanistan.

As far as impoverishing our own country fighting terror, your comment here is also disingenuous. You are well aware that the global war on terror has been a gold-mine in the security/think-tank business, and there are strong forces within the Washington beltway who would love to see this madness continue. These protesters in Chicago may be naïve and poorly informed, but they are 100% right when they proclaim that ‘war is a racket’ and that America needs to establish new priorities, both at home and abroad.

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