It was big enough, the gathering of more than 10,000 anti-war and peace activists on the streets of Chicago, marching toward McCormick Place, led by a squadron of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who would return their service medals by flinging them over the barricades, to mark a further shift in public opinion about the United States longest wars. A clear majority oppose them and want the troops brought home now. We have articulated the moral issues and the moral wrong of warring nations. [Ed.: Photo of Leila Zand and Mark Johnson of FOR carrying the Counter Summit for Peace and Economic Justice Banner in the march to McCormick Place.]
It was big enough, the gathering of police and militia, lining three miles of boulevard and main streets often three deep or deeper, in uniforms of many colors, with batons and shields and masks, on foot, horseback, bicycle (the synchronized bicycle brigades were quite coordinated and lovely), supported by cars and vans and buses, whole flotilla of buses, hovering helicopters, and cameras in the hands of officers, on lamp posts, in the sky to fully frame the State’s fear of resistance. The police came from every State bordering on Illinois and from North Carolina (DNC) and Florida (RNC). The right to assembly, for free speech, and petition of grievances, was asserted and affirmed. It was never in question but it was challenged by the powers that be and they lost.
It was big enough, the some thousand people who gathered over two weekends in two large educational events, the People’s Summit and the Counter-Summit, to hear speakers and conduct workshops, to explore the broad range of impacts of the wars and the long-lingering alliance of NATO nations and the G8 powers on economies, societies, politics, environments, cultures around the world, none of it good. They brought together nurses and doctors, students and teachers, trade-unionists and small business owners, families and children, immigrants and visitors from around the world. Herein lies, for me, the central learning of the nearly nine months of planning that gave birth to this expressed intent to educate and advocate for a different future, a NATO Free Future.
From the beginning it was clear that citizens of the United States were largely ignorant of NATO as anything more than an acronym often associated with war. Unlike so much of the rest of the world, the physical presence and the fiscal impact of an alliance of more than 22 nations globally to advance the imperial agenda of the American Empire (the United States Military Industrial Complex), is a huge blind spot on the intellect and psyche of U.S. voters and tax payers. Except for the daily attrition of dying soldiers on the battlefield and in the dark corners of suicide, we do not see the bloody brutal costs of NATO. And we do not see the simple straight-forward link between the weight of wars abroad and the burdens of poverty and inequity at home. It will still be a long time, a long haul, before we’ve passed a tipping point of knowledge and action sufficient to end NATO, refocused the agenda of the developed world, and replaced the political and economic actors who profit from the present arrangements and therefore actively resist deep change. But now we have a richer tool box for self-education and for group work at the individual and grassroots level.
The beginning of the end of NATO depends upon our wise use of the resources brought together by a large coalition of organizations and individuals for education and action. Rather than spread the links through the summary above like confetti, I offer this brief catalogue in closing. At one debrief last week we learned that these links have had over 1.5 million discrete visits. So already for every person who came to Chicago to learn and to rally and to march, 100 people have begun to explore the reports of that gathering. If you start here you will have a sufficient basis for making informed judgments and building grassroots level responses to end our current wars and set us on a new path. I urge you to start today.
The coalition in which FOR was most active was the planning for the Counter-Summit for Peace and Economic Justice was the Network for a NATO Free Future. At its NATO Free Future website you can find resources gathered in advance of the conference and reports, including videos of plenary and workshops from the conference held at the People’s Church on May 19th and 20th. The speakers list, for example that was collected for events leading up to the conference, remains an excellent resource for planning post-event speaking events as well. The press and conference video tabs at the web site have hours of content and illustrate the global reach of the event.
Other partners with FOR, Peace Action and AFSC in the Network for a NATO Free Future included the War Resisters League. Kimber Heinz and Ali Issa constructed an outstanding workshop curriculum tool which can be downloaded and used for local meetings and training events: You Can’t Take What’s All of Ours! Breaking Down NATO/G8 and Rising Up Against Austerity and Militarism.
Early on, a Chicago Area Network on the NATO/G8 meetings (CANGATE), served as a local organizing committee for a broad national and international alliance of organizations. They secured the permits required for the events, maintained a constant flow of press activity, and integrated the work of the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) and local OCCUPY for planned and spontaneous events through the week leading up to the rally and march. See particularly the catalogue of press and video at this site http://cang8.org/cang8-in-the-news/. I also recommend the UNAC summary of the People’s Summit, which includes video of the event.
From as early as August 2011, FOR joined other faith-based groups in the Chicago area and nationally to seek to frame and give voice to a faith-based critique and call for action by congregations and communities in response to NATO as a continuing injury and insult to all creation and anathema to the spirit. At the Sunday rally in Grant Park at the Petrillo Band shell, before the march to McCormick Place began, Newland Smith of the Interfaith Working Group and the Episcopal Peace Fellowship gave these remarks on our behalf which I will use to close.
NATO INTERFAITH STATEMENT May 20, 2012
Brothers and sisters, I bring greetings from the Interfaith Working Group of CANG8.
On April 4, 1967, Martin Luther King, Jr., in his speech delivered at Riverside Church, connected the dots between the War in Vietnam and the War against Poverty. Forty five years later we are gathered here to tell the leaders of NATO and the G8 that their wars and economic policies are increasingly destructive of the human family as well as destructive of the earth.
In the past decade faith communities have issued urgent calls about the increasingly economic injustice and the militarization of our world. [Two examples: From the call from the 2004 General Council of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, “Covenanting for Justice in the economy and the Earth.” The signs of the times have become more alarming and must be interpreted. The root causes of massive threats to life are above all the product of an unjust economic system defended and protected by political and military might. Economic systems are a matter of life or death.” And] from the United Methodist Church’s 2000 statement, “Economic Justice for a new Millennium,” [Today the world economy continues to change dramatically. The results of rapid consolidation of wealth and power by fewer individuals, corporations, and banks,] the shift in government priorities from social to military expenditures and the growing interconnections between national economies have led to increases in poverty, hunger, and despair in the human family.” And Brant Rosen, Rabbi of the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, in his Sermon for Yom Kippur 2011, “War without end,” said, “Just like all empires, our nation has positioned itself to fight war without end, and like all empires, we’re starting to buckle here at home under the weight of our own power and ambition.” Two days ago during the Counter Summit, three young Afghan Muslim women gave eloquent testimony to the young Afghans who are working for a non-violent presence in a country under NATO military occupation.
[This insane concentration of economic, military and political power is catastrophic for the peoples of the non NATO/G8 countries not to mention the 99 percent.]
So let us this day recommit ourselves to working for a world without militarization and economic injustice. [Let us not forget the people of Iraq, Afghanistan and Gaza, to name but some of the people living under occupation. Martin Luther King, Jr. ended that speech at Riverside Church with words that I believe are as true today as they were forty-give years ago as we seek to stand in solidarity with the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan and Gaza, to name but a few of the oppressed peoples of the world, “Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter - but beautiful struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons [and I add, daughters] of God, and our brothers and sisters wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Or will there be another message, of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost?”]
Bracketed sections had to be omitted due to time constraints.
Source: Fellowship of Reconciliation – Mark Johnson