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Emotions From Saturday Night Still High At Sunday NATO Protest

By Staff in News on May 20, 2012 10:00PM

With the NATO summit officially starting today, protestors gathered in Grant Park for a protest organized by Coalition Against NATO/G8 War & Poverty Agenda.

Chuck Sudo and Aaron Cynic are on the ground at the protest and are sending dispatches from the field.

Anxieties and emotions were still running high at Grant Park this morning from last night’s altercations between Chicago Police and anti-NATO protesters who took to the streets to show their solidarity with the three men who were arrested and charged with terrorism. Having seen the video of a police van driving through a group of marchers on Jackson, I still can’t tell who’s at fault. It’s possible there’s enough blame to be shared between the Police Department and the protesters who stepped in front of the police van in an attempt to stop it.

But Chicago Indymedia’s Chris Geovanis laid the blame at the feet of the Obama and Emanuel administrations for bringing the NATO summit to Chicago in the first place. Geovanis told assembled media at that Jack Amico, the protester who was hospitalized in the van incident last night, was arrested by police and had “disappeared.” (Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said a couple of hours later that Amico was released with no injury.)

“People who are coming to Chicago to protest NATO are getting just a small taste of the violence, repression, degradation and assault that people on the pointy end of the NATO stick suffer every day, wherever NATO is active,” Geovanis said. ”They took responsibility for policing this and their response was to break out the billy clubs, the bludgeons and every other weapon at their disposal—including vehicles—to suppress peaceful protest from a spirited, boisterous group of protesters.”

Natalie Wahlberg, a protester active with Occupy Chicago, shared her experiences of yesterday’s rally, and they weren’t pretty. Wahlberg said she was another protester hit by the police van, and was at State and Washington when the scuffle broke out between police and protesters.

“The cops reared their bikes up, shoved them into the bodies and faces of peaceful protesters,” Wahlberg said. “I was personally hit by a cop who reared his bike back and assaulted me with the front tire of his bike. I watched my friends get hit with collapsible batons. I was on the hood of the van and felt (the van’s) acceleration as it plowed through the crowd.”

Andy Thayer of the Coalition Against the NATO/G8 War & Poverty Agenda (CANG8), called last night’s actions “part and parcel” of the police department’s behavior. “If President Obama made a simple phone call to Mayor Emanuel at the Fifth Floor of City Hall,” Thayer said, “none of this would have happened.”

Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., one of today’s speakers, agreed with Geovanis, Wahlberg and Thayer that last night’s actions highlighted what residents in Chicago’s poorer neighborhoods go through every day.

"We have a world stage here," Jackson said. "Based on last night's events, clearly there must be an effort to end violence beyond these three days."

Jackson’s arrival made it harder for Geovanis to end the presser at the allotted time in order to keep the rally moving, as agreed upon by organizers and the city. ("If we don't end this by the allotted time, we could be arrested," she said.)

By 10:30 a.m., protesters were streaming into Grant Park and either staked claim to the baking tarmac in front of the Petrillo Band Shell or the shade trees on either side of the stage. After some sound engineering problems, Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello joined the marchers on the tarmac with his guitar and harmonica to lead them in a round of protest songs. Members of Veterans Against the Iraq War made an entrance that was akin to a hero’s welcome to the protesters.

Under the shade trees, smaller groups banded together. A dance circle formed. Black Bloc and Clown Bloc members donned bandannas or makeup, and waited. By my estimate, there were close to 3,000 at the rally; half of them took advantage of the shade. A loud chorus of boos broke out when Obama’s name was mentioned in conjunction with his 2009 Nobel Peace prize.