Rally against NATO, War and Poverty

by Mary C. Piemonte 

A protestor at the anti-NATO demonstrations. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte.

“No to the NATO/G8 war makers! No to war and austerity!” chanted the massive crowd who gathered around the Petrillo Band Shell in Grant Park on May 20 to protest the summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO that was held at McCormick Place this past weekend.

With officers from the Chicago Police Department, Illinois State Police and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security lining the march route, local, national and international speakers from various ethnicities and coalitions around the world, including Germany, Pakistan and Egypt, joined forces in solidarity, calling for the end of war in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places, and for the troops to be brought home. Justice for immigrants and all oppressed people everywhere. Economic justice and jobs for all. Money for effective education, health care, housing and the release of political prisoners such as the Cuban 5, who were imprisoned in Miami and charged with spying for Havana, according to members of the Chicago Committee to Free the Cuban Five.

Some speakers talked about the need for more money for environmental issues and work pensions, while others cited statements from local advocacy groups saying that “billions spent on NATO and its wars are not only attacks on people abroad but on the lives and living standards of the 99 percent at home.”

Members of the group Code Pink rally at the anti-NATO protests in Chicago May 20. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte.

 

“We will not pay for your vices, and we will not pay for your wars,” declared Inge Höger from the Left Party in Germany, who said she was fighting to bring her nation’s 5,000 troops back home from Afghanistan and also bring back the thousands of troops who are stationed in other places around the world. Höger added that NATO troops have not been able to bring peace nor provide effective security for the common people around the globe.

Malik Mujahid from the Muslim Peace Coalition declared that “NATO has the blood of millions of people on their hands.”

Mujahid said that seven of the 50 NATO leaders of the summit “are against war, but they don’t listen to their own people,” he said.

One local protest leader talked about Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s “misplaced priorities,” claiming that the millions were spent on hosting the NATO summit and millions more were spent by local corporations on parties while Emanuel “shuts down half of the city’s mental health clinics, closes schools, evicts renters, fails to provide jobs for adults and youth, and squeezes the city’s working class.”

Stan Willis of the National Coalition of Black Lawyers quoted a revolutionary from the past who once said, “Each generation must sever its mission, carry it out, or betray it.”

He said the mission of this generation “is to dismantle the military machine in the United States” and change the culture from war to peace.

“We have done protests and stopped war before. We stopped the Viet Nam War, which required solidarity to stop these wars but after we stopped these wars, we went back to doing what we did before,” Willis said, “This time, we must send a message to NATO. We must continue to organize and ask questions of who profits from the wars and who pays for it? There are certain members of the 1 percent that are addicted to war for profit. We have to cure them.”

Willis said the $1.3 trillion the U.S. has spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars should have gone to health care, schools and public sector jobs.

Demonstrations were also going on at the same time that day in parts of India, Iran, Pakistan and other places around the globe in solidarity with those in America, according to one of the speakers.

The Grassroots Collaborative released data that the U.S. accounts for 75 percent of all NATO defense spending. “Internationally, NATO promotes the misplaced idea that militarism promotes peace,” according to a release from the Chicago-based not-for-profit based group. NATO members account for 70 percent of the world’s military spending while the group reports that “the global poor continue to grow and fall deeper into poverty.”

 

The Rev. Jesse Jackson speaks to anti-NATO protestors May 20 in Chicago. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte.

A Civil Rights Icon

Before leading the march “against the NATO war and poverty agenda,” civil rights icon the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., founder of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, ended the rally at the Petrillo Bandstand by declaring that less money should be spent on the war and more should be spent on the needs of the people.

“We are in more wars and we are less secure,” Jackson said. “We spent more money and we are more impoverished and we feel betrayed by this investment of time and money and lives. It’s time for a fundamental change.

“We spent trillions of dollars or thereabout in Iraq. What could a trillion dollars do today?

“We must stop violence right here at home and go another way. That is too much violence. That’s why as we march today, we must be non-violent, disciplined, and focused.

“We must be the antidote to violence,” Jackson said.

Immediate Help

Some protesters also attended the event as a means to simply get some immediate help for their problems.

Chicagoan Jean De Saviey, a street performer, vendor and homeless veteran currently residing at the Save Haven Homes, told Residents’ Journal during the event that he attended the rally to talk to Rev. Jackson about getting him some help with housing.

“Jesse Jackson was picketing, talking about he’s going to get some housing for veterans coming home from Iraq,” De Saviey explained. “Look man, ain’t no place for me right now. I’m a veteran and I’m homeless. Give me something. All these brand new houses going up in Chicago and I can’t get a house?”

But De Saviey said Jackson said “nothing” helpful to him and added that he was also using the event to sell some items he had.

“The best nation in the world is do-nation, and I’m just trying to get some donations because I’m homeless,” De Saviey said.

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