Thoughts on the anti-NATO rally in Chicago today


I went down to Grant Park for the Coalition Against NATO/G8 rally at noon today, and I took a bunch of pictures, but I didn’t stick around for the whole march.  As I write this, there’s still folks being herded around downtown by cops in riot gear, and Twitter is blowing up with “they’re putting on gas masks,” rumors of cops in civilian clothes trying to incite trouble, and so on.  I’m watching a live stream on the web of Michigan and Cermak, and it looks like things are dying down.  Cops outnumber the protesters about 50 to 1.  If yesterday is any indication, they’ll herd the remaining crowd around in circles downtown until they tire out.

Some of my impressions from the rally:

  • There was absolutely no coherent message.  There were plenty of folks who seemed to be against NATO, and more generally against “war”.  There were also plenty of folks who were there to advocate for communism, or to free Bradley Manning, or any number of other pet causes.  It felt fractious and cliquey.
  • The number of protesters was relatively small.  I’d estimate it at a few thousand, maybe 10,000 max.  It turns out today the Cubs were playing the White Sox at Wrigley Field, which I passed by, and there were more people on the street there than there were at the protests.  Unless of course, you count the cops.
  • On the one hand, the messages were, by and large, broad complaints from much the same kinds of groups you’d have expected to see at a similar event in the 1960s.  Feminists, socialists, a few anarchists here and there, some SDS folks, and so forth. Very, very lefty, but I occasionally saw some weird right-wing influences.  A guy in an NRA jacket was telling some of the obviously lefty folks about a police van running down a protester yesterday.  Overall, it felt anachronistic.  Except that it seemed everyone had a camera or a smartphone.  There was this strange disconnect between the old-style rhetoric and the contemporary use of technology.  The abundance of cameras seems to work in the protester’s favor — it’s keeping the cops as professional as possible.
  • It seemed everyone was complaining about the so-called NATO 3, the guys that got arrested down in Bridgeport on Friday.  Everyone I heard talking about it agreed that it was a set-up by the police.  In fact, one of the speakers at the rally was one of the people arrested in the original sweep, and later released.
  • You’ll see some pictures in the news of bloodied noses and that sort of thing, but honestly, I thought it was well-handled by the cops.  There were folks who were obviously in black-bloc garb who were looking for trouble, but they were easy to spot, and few and far between.

The situation is developing, and it’s not clear what’s going to happen tomorrow, or even later tonight.  Many businesses downtown are shut down completely tomorrow.

Personally, it didn’t feel like an effective action to me, and you know, I’m broadly sympathetic to left-leaning causes.  It felt scattered, unfocused, and slapped together.  I don’t think it made any compelling point, which is too bad; they had a large audience in the enormous media presence there.  It seemed like the protesters were all anti-war, but they readily adopted war-like metaphors in their speeches.  They fought, and struggled, and refused to surrender.  But by using that kind of rhetoric, I think they induced a certain kind of cognitive dissonance that undermined their point(s).

Photo gallery below.  Click through for full-size versions.