Chicago- During the week of the NATO summit the city center of Chicago was effectively shut down as Occupiers, black bloc anarchists, anti-war protesters, and human rights activists simultaneously marched, rallied, and faced off against heavily armed riot police. In stand-offs that frequently resulted in harrowing cat-and-mouse chases through the streets and alley-ways of Chicago, thousands of radical Americans confronted equal numbers of riot police and federal agents wearing full body armor. Despite the intent of the Occupiers and protesters to maintain non-violence, numerous protesters have been beaten, struck, and sent to the trauma ward of the nearest hospital by police officials and a city administration intent on putting down any form of non-approved dissent.
Arriving in the city of Chicago is during the period of the 2012 NATO summit was an experience that could only be equated with that of entering a police state as it prepared for war. New laws were being enforced that prohibited journalists from monitoring police, and declared it an arrest-able offense for citizens to carry any kind of luggage or bag in downtown, as well as locking away commuters guilty of carrying any beverage on board any public transportation. The iron boot had come down and the message was very clear: if you don’t want to get put away you should stay away from Chicago.
Amidst the scheduled rallies by the Anti-Eviction Campaign and the local nurses union, protesters also undertook spontaneous unscheduled actions such as depositing household furniture in a downtown branch of Citibank in order to highlight the alarming level of home foreclosures in the Windy City. In one of many laughable responses to such creative dissent, the Chicago Police Department promptly “arrested” and loaded the homeless furniture into a prisoner transport vehicle, prompting calls of “FREE THE COUCH! FREE THE COUCH!” from the gathering on-lookers. The arresting officers offered no comment on potential bail for the couch and its upholstered comrades, nor would the CPD confirm nor deny that the furniture would be permitted a phone call to their attorneys.
Levity aside, many Occupiers and protesters arrived at most events prepared for police brutality. Such preparations were well advised as a climate justice rally was met by hundreds riot police swinging metal batons just hours after the couch incident. The march began relatively peacefully and was only shadowed by a small contingent of bicycle police as the three-dozen-strong crowd meandered its way through downtown. But this is Chicago in 2012, a year where everything is subject to change on both sides of the equation. The march was soon swelling by the dozens from one block to the next as intersection after intersection was forced to shut down. This was met within a matter of minutes by a nearly endless stream of unmarked police vans as they poured out squad after squad of black-clad riot police and federal agents. After a few blocks, word was received that another march had attempted to take to the streets but was being brutally contained by police.
The Occupiers made the decision: free the other march.
In a moment of brilliance, the climate justice march swiftly out-maneuvered the police, arrived at the location of the other march and pinned a single line of bike police between two marches numbering nearly a thousand people. The police received the order to stand down as the Occupiers dashed down the middle of street to embrace one another before continuing deeper into the city.
As chants of “AH! ANTI! ANTI-CAPITALISTA!” reverberated off buildings and elevated train overpasses the march proceeded towards Michigan Ave, Chicago’s main thoroughfare. A protester scaled a large stone tower at the end of a bridge and began tearing down a large blue poster celebrating NATO’s stay in Chicago. Ripping and tearing for only a few moments, the protester rang a large bell out over the crowd as the police moved in. Countering the police, several enormous members of the Black Bloc sprang forward and snatched the bell-ringer from the grasp of the police. Furious, the officers drew tasers, viciously swung batons at the unarmed on-lookers, and began to beat journalists who managed to get the moment on film as everyone scrambled over a guardrail in an attempt to get to safety. Despite the successful de-arrest by the Black Bloc, the bell-ringer was later followed and abducted at a camp later in the day. At the time of this writing his whereabouts remain unknown.
A day later, hundreds of protesters assembled at Irving Park and conducted an extraordinarily peaceful and light-hearted march to Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s house in the suburbs to protest his massive undercutting of community resources such as local clinics and mental health facilities. Baking in the 90 degree heat, protesters, journalists, and police alike were seeing purchasing popsicles from an enterprising ice-cream vendor who shadowed the march for several hours.
The heat-driven alliance was short-lived however as a few dozen anarchists and protesters assembled at the hallowed site of the Haymarket bombing. After a proposal (and acceptance) of marriage between two masked protesters, a rapidly swelling march began. Once again, as the march swelled from just a few dozen to more than a thousand, the riot police, brandishing longer and heavier batons seemed to materialize at every intersection.
In the warm light of the setting sun, the protesters ran for their lives through gardens and alleys as the police charged again and again through the late afternoon and into the coming evening. With blood dripping to the pavement the Black Bloc broke through a several lines of swinging batons and managed to free 250 of their fellow marchers who sprinted down the newly opened street corridor to safety.
This safety in numbers was not guaranteed however. It happened again after a moving ceremony later in the week during which numerous armed forces veterans ripped medals from their chests and vehemently threw them over the fence surrounding the NATO summit.
The riot police, clad in the now familiar black armor began to once again beat journalists and protesters that found themselves at the front line. Blood ran from huge gashes across one man’s head as corporate journalists (safely atop a nearby Papa John’s restaurant) recorded the rising chant of the assembled protesters: “THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING! TH WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING!”
“West! Move west you dirty bastards!” commanded a smiling white-shirted police official as the crowd was herded away from the brutality occurring just ahead. After moving back through several barricaded blocks of laughing police the clustered group encountered a police line that would let them go no further. They were penned in. Scrambling for an exit, about 60 unarmed protesters frantically ran down a long broad alley in search of an escape route as some 200 Black Bloc were arrested behind them. As they ran they saw potential escape routes rapidly barricaded on either side of them by even more black-masked police. Racing ahead, the protesters saw block after block being sealed off from escape until they were forced to jump over an iron fence to the relative safety of the adjoining sidewalk that now lay, at least for the moment, outside the hot-zone.
This madcap run to safety did little to stifle the aspirations of the hundreds of Occupiers who, later that night, assembled outside a meeting of NATO spouses to energetically dance in the rain. Battered, bruised and bloodied, arrested and de-arrested; the Occupiers invited armored officers to dance with them while playfully chanting “YOUR MOTHERS ARE WATCHING! YOUR MOTHERS ARE WATCHING! YOUR MUSTACHE IS WATCHING! YOUR MUSTASCHE IS WATCHING!” and “MORE RAIN! MORE RAIN!” in a transcendent moment of aspiration and affirmation that moved many of those gathered to witness it.
As they danced in the rain during the waning hours of the NATO summit during which numerous transactions, arms deals, and first class meals were consumed; the Occupiers stood one by one and affirmed why they had all assembled there in the city of Chicago. They were there because they opposed drone strikes. They were there to close the Guantanamo prison camp. They were there to demand the release of whistle-blower and torture victim Bradley Manning.
They were there for too many reasons for this reporter and witness to accurately or articulately recount. Yet, they were mostly there for one another. Not unlike soldiers in a war, they were there to protect one another, to defend the freedoms and rights once thought guaranteed to all humans, they were there, side by side, to fight for tens of thousands of dreams that feel are slowly slipping away. “All we want is a better life” said one masked Occupier between chants. Occupy remains, occupy endures, not despite of the terrible force of arms arrayed against them, but because of such forces. “We don’t have any other choice man” said the anonymous individual, “all we got is each other man. All we got is each other. I am because We are. You know it man, you know! I am because We are.”
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