US protesters condemn NATO
Published Sunday, May 20, 2012
Protesters gathering in Chicago for the NATO summit geared up on Sunday for the largest demonstration of the weekend, as thousands are expected to march from a downtown park to the lakeside convention center where President Barack Obama and other world leaders were meeting.
Hours before the main demonstration was set to start, protesters – including peace activists, war veterans and those more focused on the economy – began arriving at Grant Park, holding signs denouncing NATO, including ones that read: "War(equals)Debt" and "NATO, Go Home."
Security has been tight throughout the city, as the heads of state from about 60 countries began arriving to discuss the war in Afghanistan, European missile defense and other issues.
Organizers of Sunday's rally had initially predicted tens of thousands of protesters this weekend. But that was when the G-8 summit also was scheduled to be in Chicago. Earlier this year, Obama moved the Group of 8 economic meeting to Camp David, the secluded presidential retreat in rural Maryland.
Chicago kept the NATO summit, which will focus on the war in Afghanistan and other international security matters, but not the economy. That left activists with the challenge of persuading groups as diverse as teachers, nurses and union laborers to show up for the Chicago protests even though the summit's main focus doesn't align with their most heart-felt issues.
"I'm here to protest NATO, which I feel is the enforcement arm of the ruling 1 percent — of the capitalist 1 percent," said protester John Schraufnagel, 53, who took a bus from Minneapolis to Chicago and was among the first demonstrators to gather at Grant Park Sunday.
Sunday's protest followed several, smaller demonstrations the previous two days including one peaceful march to the home of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama's former chief of staff, on Saturday. But a march later that evening involving hundreds of demonstrators stretched for hours as protesters zigzagged back and forth through downtown, some decrying terrorism-related charges leveled against three young men earlier in the day.
Increasingly tense clashes Saturday night tested police who used bicycles to barricade off streets and horseback officers to coax them in different directions.