Chicago Spring Fully Underway, after Tom Morello Performs for Nurse's Union

Andrew Kennis

Over 65 delegation leaders and heads of state will be descending upon O’Hare International Airport throughout the weekend for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) important summit gathering slated to take place tomorrow and on Monday. They will be greeted by well over 500 volunteers who endeavor to do nothing more than offer a smile, a warm salutation and an offer to help the leaders with anything they may need. Thousands upon thousands of demonstrators, organizers and protesters have something far different in mind when it comes to greeting Chicago’s important out-of-town visitors.

During what has been a tumultuous month full of protests, teach-ins, rallies, marches and legal battles over permits and contested public space, by any account, “Chicago Spring” is well underway. Matters were kicked off at the beginning of the month with “May Day” protests culminating in a march through downtown and a rally at Daley Plaza in favor of immigrant rights. Yesterday, Daley Plaza was the scene of thousands of protesters and nurses who were rallying in favor of a Robin Hood tax on Wall Street in favor of wealth redistribution and better health care, dancing to the tune of Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello.

For months on end, grassroots activists from many different causes and locations have been organizing in protest of the NATO summit gathering, as well as the previously scheduled G8 gathering.

NATO summit meetings are far from an unimportant affair. They only occur once every two to three years and are meant to be gatherings where major policy changes and/or new members are potentially introduced into the powerful military alliance.

This year’s NATO summit meeting was scheduled take place in Chicago concurrently with the G8 meeting. The G8 is an elite alliance uniting heads of state from the world’s eight most wealthy countries. However, the simultaneous meeting was canceled just two months before it was scheduled to occur. The Huffington Post described the cancellation as an “unusual late location change for a large and highly scripted international summit.” Given the months of protest organizing, activists immediately declared the location change a victory.

However, the NATO summit still held true to its original plan to meet in Chicago, and organizers responded in kind by sticking to their plans with extended and additional organizing to be taken on by others. Camp David, which is where the G8 was re-located to, was to be addressed by the Occupy Baltimore camp.

The NATO summit meeting has been used as a flash point not just to protest against NATO’s militaristic policies and nuclear-arm wielding powers, but on a whole host of wide-ranging issues. Among the many events being organized included rallies and marches in favor of enshrining health care rights for all, of environmentally friendly policies, against mental health clinic closings in Chicago and anti-war events, including a medal-returning ceremony featuring medal-bearing Iraq Veterans Against the War activists.

The weekend’s events were kicked off by none other than Tom Morello, who refused to balk at the threat of the Mayor’s office to yank the permit of a major rally planned by a nurses’ union. Morello bellowed to the crowd that the nurse’s union, “looked the Mayor's office in the eye .. and they looked the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in the eye, and they said in a loud voice, in the words of that old 1990's spiritual, 'Fuck you I won't do what you told me.'”

In the days leading up to the rally, the union was able to negotiate retaining their permit at the original location in Daley Plaza.

Singing "World-wide Rebel Songs" to an enthusiastic crowd of many thousands, Morello explained the backdrop to the song: “I like guitars, you may like them too. Well, there was a guitar factory that was organizing a union in Korea. And the Korean workers were all fired for organizing a union and the shop moved to China. The workers got in touch with me and I organized a benefit for them. But the day before the concert, Haiti was devastated by an earthquake, but the workers voted that all proceeds from the show would be sent to help the relief efforts. I wrote this song specifically for that show, and tried to capture that spirit of international solidarity. That situation showed a little bit of the world I’d like to live in."

Following the rally, there was spontaneous and unpermitted marches throughout the city. Protesters explained to me their motives for attending the rallies, permitted or otherwise.

Lieutanent Superville, with the nurse’s union, said that she attended, “because I wanted to be the voice for the 99% who couldn't be here. It's important that our voices be heard about the kind of things that we see on a daily basis, people having to choose whether or not they should eat, purchase their medication, pay their mortgage or rent. That's not the way it is supposed to be at this country at this time. When you see children and family members suffer from hyper-tension and anxiety … you realize that this is a reflection of what is going on in our economy with people losing their jobs, and then losing their homes, and then losing their health care benefits.”

The nurse’s union, whose rally was held in conjunction with Morello’s appearance, was done to drum up more support and awareness for a modest tax the union is seeking to implement on Wall Street financial transactions. Superville explained, “We feel that Wall Street should pay their fair share of taxes. That money can be put back into the economy to help people get jobs, health care and to be able secure their mortgages and all of the things that normally come with the American dream, as opposed to right now, which is really an American nightmare.”

Other protesters, like the Chicano Daniel Estrada, a 24-year old who was born in Chicago to parents from Guadalajara, had more local incentives at work for his attendance: "I am here because I have seen what they are doing to my neighborhood in south Chicago ... taking away the nurses that we need, taking away the rights that we deserve." Estrada, who is studying criminal justice at Robert Morris University and while holding down a job at UPS, further expressed disdain for the city’s priorities surrounding the event: "It was ridiculous that the city spent the amount of money that they have, as it was clear that the amount of cops that were there did not need to be there. This was a total waste of our city's resources. I'm not surprised, as I have seen it done before, but not to this extent."

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.