The following is a collection of dispatches from May 20, 2012, a major day of protests against the NATO Summit in Chicago. The vision of the protests presented here is solely the view of the author, and may differ from the experiences others had. No worries.
From a hundred miles away in my hometown, Milwaukee, livestreams, twitter feeds and early reports from Chicago all presented different visions of this perpetual protest, which appeared to begin a week before the NATO summit even began.
Some elements of this news coverage were predictable. Established media sources chose to focus on two stories that drew attention away from the larger purpose of the protests. They covered the ‘NATO Three’, a group of Occupy-affiliated young men alleged to have been planning acts of terrorism, as well as ‘Clown Bloc’, a hoax organization which announced plans to launch cream pies at Chicago’s finest during the weekend’s protests.
These provided decent fodder for the major news organizations, allowing them to distill the entire anti-NATO mobilization down to a pair of easily digestible stories: one to invoke fear of ‘fringe’ radicals, and the other to provoke an easy laugh.
I had to make a choice if I wanted to really understand what was going on in Chicago. I could continue talking to people on the ground, trying to arrange their observations into an A Beautiful Mind-style storyboard of nervous, tenuous connections linked more by rumor than fact…. Or I could go and see it for myself.
I arrived early Sunday morning, long before the city had woken up. After parking out in a desolate nowhere known as the O’Hare Park-and-Ride, I made it to the Loop, which was nearly empty save for a handful of Transit police and CPD officers, who eyed my camera warily as we rode the train together. I left their gaze as quickly as I could, making my way to Occupy Chicago’s Convergence Center.
The Convergence Center was actually the Wellington Avenue Church, which was in the middle of a morning service as I approached the sixty or so protesters milling on the sidewalk outside. A parishioner’s rendition of “If You Want to Sing Out” poured through the Church’s windows, providing a nice acoustic bed to the morning’s protest prep. Between applying sunscreen liberally and reminding folks a dozen times to write the National Lawyers Guild’s number somewhere on the body that doesn’t sweat profusely in 90-degree weather, Occupiers were busy swapping stories of the past few days.
Some of the people at the Convergence Center, whom I rode with to the noon rally at Grant Park, had already experienced varying degrees of restraint – and, in some cases, aggression – by the overwhelming police presence in the city. Perhaps none as much as Robert “Bobby” LaMonte, one of the eleven people who was scooped up in the Wednesday raid that made the “NATO Three” the story du jour for the media during the Summit.
“I’d just hitched for 28 hours, and finally got to the apartment on the South Side,” LaMonte told me as we rode over to Grant Park. He and Brent Betterly, one of the “NATO Three” that was eventually charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism, providing material support for terrorism and possession of an explosive or incendiary device.
LaMonte spent 22 hours handcuffed to a bench in the Organized Crime Unit without being charged with a crime. “They wouldn’t tell us why we were being detained, or give us a phone call. And the whole time they were calling us names. Terrorist, communist, skinhead, faggot.”