At least 93 protesters were arrested this weekend in Chicago when thousands of members of the Occupy Wall Street movement descended on the city to protest a meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Two people also were detained by the Secret Service for allegedly attempting to scale protective fencing around the summit at McCormick Place.
Sixty heads of state converged on Chicago for the two-day NATO summit, where they discussed the conflict in Afghanistan and other global issues behind closed doors Saturday and Sunday. Similar meetings of global elites, notably those held each year by the World Economic Forum, have helped funnel jobs to low-wage economies while keeping prices high in the developed economies where the displaced workers live.
Protesters sought to highlight those imbalances and to shine a spotlight on the continuing Afghan War, which began after the 9/11 terror attacks and continues to require 130,000 foreign soldiers. The vast majority are U.S. citizens.
“There’s just a great resonance with the Occupy movement, because if we weren’t spending such outrageous amounts on war, we have money for human needs,” said Lillian Moats, 65, of Downers Grove, Ill. “It seems like our country’s priorities are upside down.”
The ranks of the protesters peaked at more than 4,000 on Sunday, when several hundred of them engaged in a two-hour dustup with police that resulted in 45 arrests. A Getty Image photographer and a lawyer were among those detained.
At least 24 protesters and four police officers were injured. Numerous Occupiers suffered head wounds after being clubbed for trying to draw attention to the growing imbalance between haves and have-nots.
“It was ridiculous,” Occupier Robert Hines, 23, told The Chicago Sun-Times after his release at 1 a.m. Monday. “A misuse of power in my opinion.”
Sunday’s showdown marred a week of interactions between Chicago police and protesters that had been largely peaceful to that point. Most public spaces were open to all, in sharp contrast to the police state created in Lower Manhattan by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The wealthiest elected official in U.S. history, who owes most of his $20 billion fortune to Wall Street, has been an active participant in its battle with Occupy.
Instead of voicing their respect for firms like J.P. Morgan, officials in Illinois have repeatedly expressed their respect for the Constitutional rights of protesters.
“For the most part, thousands of people have been able to express themselves, have been able to state their opinions about war, about NATO,” Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon told CNN.
The final tally of participants was short of the 10,000 marchers that protest organizers had hoped for. However, it still represents one of the strongest showings in the middle of the country for the movement against predatory elites who enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of us.
The highlight of the weeklong protest occurred Sunday afternoon when military veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan marched toward the NATO summit in McCormick Place in a bid to return the medals awarded to them for heroism, injury and service. Their ranks included 24-year-old Marine veteran Scott Olsen, who was wearing a black helmet to protect a skull fractured by Oakland Police as he participated in a peaceful protest Oct. 25.
Olsen said fear of a violent police crackdown helped damp the number of protesters in Chicago.
“They have been using violence across the country,” Olsen, who served two tours of duty in Iraq, told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now. “They are always trying to intimidate us and, you know, keep our numbers down – keep families home. People don’t want to bring out kids when there’s a threat of violence.”
Olsen returned four medals. He and other veterans threw them in the direction of McCormick Place after police blocked their approach.
Elected leaders and the financial interests that help bring them to power are increasingly at odds with the citizens of their nations thank to a global economic meltdown created by risky investing practices and government efforts to insulate the financial institutions who engaged in them from the adverse consequences of their “irrational exuberance.”
“Basically NATO is used to keep the poor poor and the rich rich,” John Schraufnagel, who traveled from Minneapolis to Chicago told the Huffington Post. He said the alliance has become “the enforcement arm of the ruling 1 percent” since the end of the Cold War.
NATO was originally created as a counter to the Soviet-backed Warsaw Pact military alliance after World War II. It’s mission has lost focus since the collapse of the USSR in 1991.
NATO leaders stuck to the timeline for the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, according to their summit declaration. They also addressed the changes resulting from the pro-democracy movement in the Middle East, known as the “Arab Spring,” while ignoring similar populist protests against the tyrrany of ruling elites in Chicago, Greece and Europe – where they threaten the stability of the European Union.
“At a time of unprecedented change in the Mediterranean and broader Middle East,” NATO said in the summit declaration. “NATO supports the aspirations of the people of the region for democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law – values which underpin the Alliance.”
Chicago Police Chief Garry McCarthy described the majority of protesters as cooperative and praised his own officers’ restraint.
“I feel very good about the way the officers have handled this incredible amount of stress,” said McCarthy, a veteran of the New York City Police Department who helped slashed street crime in Newark, N.J., before taking the top spot in Chicago.
McCarthy said Chicago police have been “facilitating peaceful protest, protecting people, providing public safety, while at the same time being intolerant of crimes.”
On Sunday, they also busted a lot of pariotic American heads to protect the discredited status quo.