A massive concentration of police forces in Chicago culminated yesterday in a brutal attack on non-violent anti-NATO protesters. It was nationally coordinated, orchestrated by Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, and designed to manufacture a climate of fear and intimidation. But it failed to suppress political dissent.
I arrived in Chicago last Thursday, May 17th with a team of supporters to get the word out about the Freedom Socialist Party presidential campaign. My running mate, Christina López and I were certain that demonstrators in Chicago would be highly interested in our un-million dollar campaign to get out the vote for the greater good, not the lesser evil.
In all my years of activism, I’ve never seen so many cops. They were everywhere downtown – surrounding public buildings, on every street corner, in subways stations and on platforms. Even our hotel housed a multi-state conglomeration of police and K-9 units.
It amounted to a police-occupied Chicago. In a preemptive police raid Wednesday evening authorities arrested three activists on charges of terrorism. It was quickly learned that they had been set up by police infiltrators. Unlawful and random questioning, searching and detaining NATO protesters before activities began also took place. As the National Lawyers Guild and the People’s Law Office declared, “Preemptive raids like this are a hallmark of National Special Security Events. Clearly the hand of the Obama administration and Homeland Security was present in Chicago.”
This entire police operation was designed to stop free speech before it started. First, the mayor refused to issue permits for the demonstrations. The NATO/G8 protest coalition then took the city to court – and won. At that point President Obama decided to move the G8 summit to Camp David.
I consider the brutish bully clubs used by the police yesterday a direct response to this earlier court victory by protest organizers.
None of these tactics prevented thousands of people from showing up for three days of spirited demonstrations. I was inspired by the message of the May 18th National Nurses United rally and its call for taxing the rich and diverting military spending to pay for healthcare.
Another march on Saturday, May 19th had a similar message as they denounced the closure of mental health clinics in Chicago by marching to the mayor’s residence.
The week’s anti-NATO activities peaked on Sunday, May 20th with a massive rally and march against NATO. Peaceful protesters steadfastly marched past phalanxes of city, state and federal police.
During this closing rally, at the corner of Michigan and 22nd, veterans who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan gave heart-felt statements about the crimes that they had witnessed by U.S. and NATO forces. They then hurled their military medals towards the site of the NATO Summit.
While the vets were still speaking, I witnessed riot police move in formation to block the main exit route from the demonstration. This military maneuver created dangerous conditions, corralling a crowd of thousands who had marched for over two hours in 90 degree heat into an area with no clear exit.
My campaign team and I managed to scramble over a raised traffic island just as the police encircled the crowd. Those not able to make it out were shoved and beaten by row upon row of police in riot gear. I was appalled to see later on the news that the police brass justified their brutality by claiming protesters refused orders to disperse. I heard no such orders as police moved towards us in formation to block the main exit route.
The Durham-Lopez campaign denounces this effort to smother free speech and criminalize legal protest. It amounted to a military training exercise for police forces. And, as a Chicago bystander told me, it was an attempt to “train” the public into silence.
Clearly, it was a failed attempt. Despite Chicago and federal agencies police actions yesterday, public protest gained new ground in Chicago. As yesterday shows, thousands were ready to come out against the policies of war and poverty despite stepped-up efforts to harass, intimidate and chill political dissent.
The Durham-López presidential campaign stands committed to free speech and the right of assembly along with every other right embodied in the Bill of Rights. We condemn the attack on demonstrators in Chicago and oppose encroaching police-state actions of state, local and federal governments, the FBI and Homeland Security. Their goal is to undermine the power of the public to organize and mobilize for change in every aspect of our lives.
Chicago, during the NATO Summit, shows how important it is for us all to organize, protest and vote against every elected official – from the president on down – who fails to condemn the suppression that took place in Chicago over the past several days.
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