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Shortened Nurses Rally Kicks Off NATO Summit Protests With Bite

By Staff in News on May 18, 2012 9:20PM

By Chuck Sudo and Aaroncynic

It was a few minutes before noon and three Chicago police officers were chatting with a chatting with a protester who had a flag attached to a wooden flagpole with two C-hooks. The discussion was civil. Then he quietly removed his flag from the pole as the police confiscated it.

As the police worked through the crowd, the protester stood on a bench and began wildly waving his flag. “The police think this is dangerous,” he shouted, while two others in the crowd tried to start a “this is what a police state looks like” chant that was dead on arrival

Had it not been for negotiations between the city and National Nurses United, that scene may have been an apt metaphor for today’s rally, the first major rally against the NATO summit. The city had threatened to pull NNU’s permit request because of concerns that a scheduled appearance by Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello would push the attendance for the rally past Daley Plaza’s official capacity. The two sides reached an agreement which shortened the length of the rally from five hours to two, with the final 30 minutes turned over to a performance by Morello, in his guise as the Nightwatchman.

Both NNU and Morello had some fun at the city’s expense, wondering why they were afraid of a musician. Today’s rally had a bit of a self-congratulatory feel, or at least celebratory. Nurses United stayed on message throughout, and framed the city as the party that blinked.

The rally, dubbed “The People’s G8,” settled on the theme of equal taxation that has been the galvanizing theme of the Occupy movement. Union co-president Deborah Burger told the crowd of about 2,000 she’s never seen a community in such disarray and suffering in her 38 years as a registered nurse.

“Wall Street got us into this mess. We gave them the money to bail them out and they’ve done nothing” in return, Burger said. “So let’s tax the traders who got us into this mess. Tax Wall Street. They have the money to bail us out.”

Much of the rally focused on the missing leaders of the G8 nations, who had their summit switched from Chicago to Camp David, MD. A skit performed on stage equated the G8 leaders to the bourgeois, in contrast to the NNU members who wore Robin Hood hats in the crowd and onstage.

While the NNU continued to hammer home their Robin Hood theme, others in the crowdused the rally as an opportunity to draw attention to their individual causes. Over 100 groups were with NNU in solidarity, but there were the usual assortment of anarchists, campus radicals, trustafarians, drum circle types and leftists in the crowd, as they mingled with Loop office workers noshing on ice cream and snapping photos of the scene with their smart phones.

Jofffre Stewart, a local legend among Chicago’s leftist community, was passing out his latest hastily scribbled, Xeroxed treatise to anyone with a free hand. Stewart, who ran for Vice President as a Wobbly in 1960, has been killing fascists with a copier for decades can be best described as anti-Zionist; some—even on the left—may say his theories cross into the anti-Semitic.

At 1 pm. Morello finally took the stage and proceeded to fire up an already rapt crowd with talk about how the city was scared of his presence and how the money being spent on the summit and security for it and other austerity programs could be earmarked toward health care. "In the words of that 90s spiritual: "Fuck you. I won't do what you tell me," Morello told the audience with a preacher's fervor. Morello was joined by singer Tom McIlrath of Rise Against for a duet of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad.”

At 1:30 p.m. a splinter group of protesters took to the streets and worked their way through the Loop. Chicago Police were professional throughout, but there was one incident where a host of bike cops arrested a protester who tried to tear down a NATO summit sign on the Michigan Avenue Bridge.

The march finally ended at Occupy Chicago headquarters at LaSalle and Jackson.