Thousands converge on Chicago on first big day of protests

CHICAGO – Thousands rallied and marched peacefully in downtown Chicago Saturday in the biggest protests so far against NATO, the relic of the cold war holding a May 20-21 summit here.

Daley Plaza in the Loop, which officially holds 5,000, was packed to capacity with crowds that spilled out into the surrounding streets and blocks. The rally was called by the nation’s largest organization of nurses, National Nurses United, which had declared May 18 , the eve of a G-8 gathering in Maryland and the NATO event here, a day of national action.

Thousands of nurses wearing their red union T-shirts and thousands of their supporters demanded passage of a “Robin Hood Tax,” a financial transaction tax on all Wall Street deals which the nurses say would heal the economic disaster engulfing the world.

The highlight of the colorful and festive rally was a performance by the eminent musician and guitarist Tom Morello, of Rage Against the Machine fame.

Chicago, which is Morello’s native city, threatened to move the rally away from the heart of downtown when word got out two weeks ago that he would perform. Morello, to the cheers of the thousands gathered at Daley Plaza, said that it was the power of a fighting union (the nurses) and public outcry that forced the city to allow the rally to go ahead at the originally planned location.

“They couldn’t shut us down because we stood up,” Morello said. “It was a few politicians, their skeevy lawyers and some trembling NATO generals who caved in.”

Thousands of nurses in the crowd wore green Robin Hood caps to call attention to their demand for a tax on Wall Street stocks, bonds derivatives and other financial instruments that can raise up to $350 billion yearly to mitigate the economic crisis they say was caused by the banks. “The tax will generate the revenue needed for healthcare, to create jobs, and to build schools and strengthen all basic services,” said NNU Executive Director RoseAnn De Moro.

The proposed tax, as little as 50 cents on every $100 of trades, would operate like a sales tax most Americans pay on almost all the goods and services they purchase. “The key difference,” said NNU Co-president Karen Higgins, RN, “is this tax targets the banks and financial institutions, not ordinary consumers, whose reckless gambling with people’s homes and pensions are largely responsible for the recession that still effects people lives every day.”

Members of Occupy Chicago and of a variety of unions, anti-poverty groups and community organizations were present in the crowd and when large numbers of them walked to the rally location beforehand and away from it afterward they literally formed auxiliary protest feeder marches throughout downtown. When they passed the Congress Hotel on Michigan Ave. they joined and swelled the ranks of the handful of strikers who have been picketing the hotel for years in the longest ongoing strike in America.

Police reported only one arrest all day.

According to the National Lawyers Guild that one arrest was unjustified. Police never charged the person with any crime despite extensive questioning and eventually he was released.

The NLG condemned a police raid that took place late Wednesday in the Bridgeport neighborhood where eight were arrested. Police from the city’s Organized Crime Department reportedly entered an apartment with guns drawn, handcuffing people to furniture for hours. During the search they reportedly called one of the victims a “commie faggot.” By Friday night, 30 hours later, three were still being held by police without charges. {Police said they suspected the arrestees were making bombs in the apartment but cops seized only beer making supplies and a cell phone.)

Community leaders around Chicago are beginning to express concern about how the unnecessarily heavy police presence downtown is draining police protection needed in the areas of the city where there is high crime.

Charles Brown, a retired Chicago cop who has owned a home in the city’s Englewood neighborhood for 40 years, told the Peoples World, “There are young people raped and shot around here on a regular basis and they have all the police downtown watching peaceful demonstrators.”

In Brighton Park a contingent of twelve mothers of children at the Nathans Davis Elementary School was standing guard outside the school annex all morning. They said they were there to protect their children from gang activity in the neighborhood because regular police protection was inadequate. On normal days there are at least occasional police patrols passing the school, they said, but there were none now because of the NATO summit. “For the last two days we haven’t seen a single cop,” one of the mothers said. “The children deserve to be safe when they go to school.”

Photo: Blake Deppe/PW



John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.