Up Close at the Anti-NATO Protests

The police never had to fire tear gas. But there was blood and drama in the streets of Chicago this week as environmentalists played dead and veterans threw away their medals of honor.

veterans-top.jpgU.S. veterans flash peace signs before removing their medals in protest and flinging them in the direction of the NATO summit. (Julie Dermansky)

Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel went to great lengths to insure that history would not repeat itself when the NATO summit came to town. But the protesters showed up in full force, starting a week before the summit began.

There was a "Get Dirty" rally in front of the Canadian Consulate to protest the Keystone pipeline, a National Nurses United demonstration, and a local Occupy Chicago "Save Our Clinics" protest that took its message to the mayor's house, demanding health care for all. Members of Occupy Wall Street and other Occupy groups across the country joined Occupy Chicago for numerous other unauthorized marches.

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On Sunday, May 20, the first day of the two day summit, a sea of blue police helmets swirled through the city. Veterans for Peace held a march and rally focused on its anti-NATO stance. More than a dozen soldiers returned their medals, tossing them in the direction of McCormick Plaza where the summit was in session. Many expressed anger, saying they'd been lured into enlisting by misinformation about weapons of mass destruction that were never found. The crowd cheered when Scott Olsen, a former Marine who was shot in the head with a tear gas canister when Occupy Oakland's encampment was dismantled, took the stage.

After the rally, a couple of hundred in the crowd, including a group associated with the Black Bloc, refused to leave when the police tried to disperse the crowd. Protesters donned gas masks and goggles in anticipation of tear gas, and put in ear plugs to protect themselves from LRAD sound weapons. Four police officers were injured; an unknown number of bloodied protestors left the scene, some in handcuffs.

Although showdowns between between protesters and police continued into the night, the violence never reached the scale or intensity Mayor Emanuel prepared for. It's unclear whether the credit goes to the police for keeping the order, or to the demonstrators for keeping their protests relatively peaceful this time.

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Julie Dermansky is a multimedia reporter and artist based in New Orleans. She is an affiliate scholar at Rutgers University's Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights. Visit her website at www.jsdart.com.

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