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Chicago Protest Reflections: Two Wings of the Same Bird of Prey


Barack Obama was right last week to move the annual rich nations’ confab called the G8 Summit from its originally scheduled venue of Chicago to a cloistered compound outside Washington DC – the president’s official retreat in Maryland’s secluded Camp David – next May. He knew that the Chicago G8 promised to be highly problematic both for his re-election campaign and for the great concentrated power structures he is sworn and predisposed to defend. Conscious that the ruling class hired his expectation-managing brand of “hope” and change” to (among other things) dazzle, dilute, dismiss, delude, divide, de-mobilize, de-fang, and otherwise destroy dissent, he grasped that his “home city” had become the perfect juicy spring protest target for the Left. As Chicago Alderman Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward) said, “Nobody can get near Camp David.”

 

Some Left Chicago History

 

Chicago holds rich historical meaning for left activists. It was the site of the 1968 Democratic Convention, when tens of thousands of protestors descended on the city to oppose the criminal Vietnam War being conducted by Democrats Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey. The antiwar movement and counter-culture met a wave of epic police brutality ordered by Chicago Mayor and Democratic Party boss Richard J. Daley, who tried to make his city’s glaring black poverty invisible to visiting delegates by erecting plywood fences on both sides of the route between downtown hotels and the convention site in the South Side stockyards district. A detailed bipartisan investigation (the bestselling Rights in Conflict) found the repression to have been a proto-fascistic “police riot.”

 

Then there’s Haymarket. May Day, the great international workers’ protest day, finds strong historical roots in the remarkable left-led working class struggle for an Eight Hour Day that emerged in Chicago in the spring of 1886.  On May 1st of that year, 60,000 Chicago workers struck and 80,000 mostly immigrant workers, led by anarchists Albert and Lucy Parsons, marched up Chicago’s downtown Michigan Avenue. The struggle culminated in the tragic Haymarket incident (the throwing by an unknown hand of a bomb that killed one policeman and injured seven others, followed by the police firing indiscriminately and murderously into a dispersing crowd) and a wave of vicious anti-radical and anti-labor repression that included the execution of four Chicago radicals – August Spies, Albert Parsons, George Engel, and Adolph Fischer – on November 11, 1887. In the moments before they were hanged, Spies shouted, "The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today!" The condemned radicals did not die immediately when they dropped, but strangled slowly, a sight that visibly shook spectators. The Haymarket Martyrs and the social-revolutionary struggle they led are still honored by working class and peasant activists the world over.

 

The site of many epic labor and left struggles to come, Chicago was also home to the most widely read American socialist novel of the 20th century – Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Set in and around Chicago’s once giant slaughtering and meatpacking industry, The Jungle still receives mention in U.S. history texts primarily in connection with its role in exposing the unsanitary conditions of the meat industry.  In fact, the novel was meant above all to be a parable on the tragic nature of working class life under the demands of capital and a plea for socialism.  The original edition of the novel concluded with its proletarian protagonist attending a mass rally addressed by the American Socialist Party’s mesmerizing presidential candidate – Sinclair’s fictional representation of Eugene Debs. The candidate, Sinclair wrote:

 

“was a man of electric presence, tall and gaunt, with a face worn think by struggle and suffering.  The fury of outraged manhood gleamed in him – and the tears of suffering.  When he spoke he paced the stage restlessly; he was lithe and eager, like a panther.  He leaned over, reaching out for his audience; he pointed into their souls with an insistent finger.  His voice was husky from much speaking, but the hall was still as death, and everyone heard him.  He spoke the language of workingmen – he pointed them the way. He showed the two political parties as ‘two wings of the same bird of prey” [emphasis added]. The people were allowed to choose between their candidates, and both of them were controlled, and all their nominations were dictated by, the same [money] power.”

 

 

City of Disparity Protest Sites

 

City Hall

 

Run by a corporate-Democratic machine that has faced no serious Republican opposition for more than half a century, Chicago is a monument to that power and control. It is home to the authoritarian mayoralty of Obama’s former chief-of-staff Rahm Emmanuel. Dubbed “Mayor 1%” by Occupy Chicago, Emmanuel is a wealthy, militaristic and left-loathing autocrat who worked relentlessly to advance corporate and imperial policies under two Democratic presidential administrations (Clinton and Obama) and during three terms in the House of Representatives (2003-2008). His service to concentrated wealth and power (including his own) continues in Chicago, where he is pushing hard to rollback teacher pay and other public sector union wages and benefits and to privatize schools and city services. Last fall, Emmanuel forcibly prevented the Occupy Movement from pitching a campsite anywhere in the city, which is blessed by a relative abundance of public parks. Last January 4 and 5, more than 200 people of all ages staged a sit-in outside his office to demand that Emmanuel and his appointees on the Chicago School Board cease halt plans to close and privatize schools across the city. In May of 2010, roughly 5,000 teachers, students, and parents surrounded City Hall (121 N. LaSalle St.)  to protest then Mayor Richard M. Daley’s plans to lay off more than 2500 teachers, although the event was largely ignored by the local press and meaningfully covered only in left leaning and socialist publications.

 

Invisible Neighborhoods and Corporate Headquarters

 

The city’s glaring disparities are a fit target for protest and resistance, with or without international summits taking place downtown. Numerous predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods suffer Great Depression-like rates of unemployment in the forgotten shadows of “global Chicago’s” shining downtown corporate headquarters and its surrounding ring of gentrified residential and recreation zones. Chicago has 15 neighborhoods where more than a quarter the children are growing up at less than half the federal government’s notoriously inadequate poverty level.  As the Brookings Institution reported last November, it is home to 593,000 poor people and to 124 “extreme poverty” census tracts (where more than 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line) that together house 304,139 people including 140,574 poor. It is also home to 2,550 people identified by the global wealth intelligence firm Wealth X as “Ultra High New Worth” (UHNW) individuals – persons with at least $30 million in worth, “including shares in companies, real estate, cash, art collections, private planes and other investable assets.” As CNBC reporter Paul Toscano gushed last month in a report on “Where the ‘One Percent’ Live”:

 

“Chicago is a major financial center and home to major financial and futures exchanges, including the Chicago Stock Exchange, the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Major companies in Chicago include the CME Group, Boeing, Groupon, MillerCoors, United Airlines and RR Donnelley. Some of the billionaires that call Chicago home are private-equity titan Sam Zell, media mogul Oprah Winfrey, former CEO of Wrigley William Wrigley Jr., and founder of Morningstar Joe Mansueto” (CNBC, February 16, 2012) at http://finance.yahoo.com/news/where-the–one-percent–live.html)  

 

The Boeing Corporation (100 N. Riverside), located on the western shore of the south branch of the Chicago River, is an especially good protest target. It is the maker of the B-2 Stealth Bomber, the Blackhawk Helicopter, and the Predator Drone, to mention just three deadly Boeing technologies the Pentagon has purchased and used (at massive cost-plus taxpayer expense) to murder tens of thousands of innocent civilians, including countless  small children, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen over the last decade. Two summers ago, in July 2009:

 

“members and supporters of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) participated in a silent funeral procession that drew attention to Boeing’s role in the production of drones (unmanned aerial vehicles—UAVs) that have killed over 700 civilians in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

”To a slow, steady drumbeat, the procession of about forty mourners, dressed in black and bearing a coffin, moved through the streets of downtown Chicago from the Federal Building to Boeing during the noon lunch hour.  A large model Predator Drone hovering above…caught the interest of passersby.  Participants carried signs urging Boeing to divest from drones and death and distributed leaflets detailing some of the startling facts about drone warfare.”  

”The procession culminated at Boeing’s world headquarters beside the Chicago River where the mock drone fired a fake missile at the mourners.  At that point, four CPTers, who had entered Boeing through a side door, spread blood-stained sheets on the lobby floor and lay down to simulate those killed in the attack… Boeing security quickly brought out two dogs on leashes that barked and snarled inches away from the faces of the CPTers lying motionless on the floor.  Security whisked the dogs away when another CPTer began videotaping the scene.” (http://www.cpt.org/cptnet/2009/07/31/chicago-vigil-urges-boeing-divest-predator-drones)   


University of Chicago Economics Department

 

Another worthy protest site is the University of Chicago Economics Department (1101 E. 58th Street, third floor of Rosenwald Hall). For more than five decades, the department’s so-called free market doctrines have advanced the triumph of corporate and financial profit over the needs and rights of ordinary people and the common good at home and abroad – from harshly race- and class-divided and hyper-segregated Chicago to the sprawling mega-slums of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. “Chicago school” economists are regularly rewarded with “Nobel Prizes” honoring their role in the infection of the world with the neoliberal disease.  They use abstract and ahistorical formulas and bloodless models to purport to explain why the wealthy few require grotesque fortunes and endless influence in a nation where half the population is now either officially poor (50 million) or low income (150 million) and in a world where nearly half the population – 3 billion people – live on less than $2.50 a day. Training regressive state-capitalist technocrats and ideologues from and for all corners of the world capitalist system, the University of Chicago has long deployed its own large police department to protect students and professors from black South Side residents for whom the “free market” has proved less than beneficial. From 1992 until his election to the U.S. Senate 2004, the future civil liberties executioner Barack Obama taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago’s conservative and elitist law school. The university’s faux-gothic southern skyline marks one heavily guarded boundary of a ghetto-surrounded island of class privilege. Upton Sinclair’s “bird of prey” perches comfortably atop the university’s giant, aptly named Rockefeller Chapel.

 

 

The Obama Campaign Headquarters

 

An especially juicy, pulp-filled and dollar-soaked Chicago protest target is the top corporate Democrat Obama’s 2012 downtown re-election campaign headquarters (located in the Prudential Building at 130 E. Randolph St.). Obama’s center of operations “looks more like a company than a campaign. For the last year,” the New York Times reported last week, “an office that appears nearly as long and as wide as a football field has steadily grown, with more than 300 workers now sitting bunched together….a payroll of $3 million in January suggests the staff is larger than any ever assembled for a presidential race.”  The Times adds that the 300 workers are having a hard time raising money from the “small donors who gave early and often in 2008.” This is because “Some of the volunteers who went to work enlisting friends and neighbors [in 2008] have been turned off by unmet expectations” and because “they have literally lost track of many reliable Democratic voters, particularly lower-income people who have lost their homes or their jobs or both, and can no longer be reached at the addresses or phone numbers the campaign has on file” (J. Rutenberg and J. Zeleny, NYT, March 8, 2012, A1).

 

The corporate-like Obama headquarters is a target thanks to the administration’s relentless service to the rich and powerful.[1] That service stands in bold defiance of the hopes for progressive and democratic change that many Americans felt when President Elect Obama gave his victory speech before an estimate 1 million Chicagoans gathered in and around the city’s downtown Grant Park (where antiwar protestors faced tear gas and police batons in 1968). Many who came to hear the charismatic president-in-waiting in person that night are now among those “who have lost their homes or their jobs or both, and can no longer be reached at the addresses or phone numbers the campaign has on file.” They were used and forgotten by a president who has already attended 191 elite fundraisers – a new first-term record with 10 months still to go (F. Schouten, ”Obama Tops Recent Presidents in Fundraising Attendance,” USA Today, March 6, 2012, A1).  They have been given a harsh lesson in power (who has it and who doesn’t) and in how the Democrats are one of Sinclair’s “two wings of the same bird of [capitalist political] prey.”

 

World City Folly and Repression

 

“We're a world class city with world class potential," declared Rahm Emanuel last January. Infused by the same civic boosterism, commercial lust, and “global city” pretension that sent the second Richard (M.) Daley (Chicago’s “pinstripe patronage” mayor from 1989 to 2011) and the president himself panting to Copenhagen for the 2016 Olympics, “Rahmbo” and the Commercial Club of Chicago thought they had scored an enviable coup. Chicago, they cheered, would host both the G8 and the annual NATO military meetings this May. Hooray! 

 

"If you want to be a global city, you've got to act like a global city and do what global cities do," said Lori Healey, head of the G8/NATO Summit Host Committee, who led Chicago’s failed bid to host the 2016 Olympics. Healy’s committee came up with a brand name for the co-joined power elite gatherings: “Global Crossroads.”

 

They should have thought things out more carefully. Global capitalist policy summits became sites for significant “anti-globalization” (global justice) protests in and around big rich state cities during the late 1990s. In the summer of 2001, the G8 meetings in Genoa, Italy attracted giant demonstrations, provoking ugly repression that included the killing of at least one protestor (Carlo Guliani).  Following those events and the 9/11 attacks two months later, the G8 made an understandable point (from an elite perspective)  of meeting in more remote, non-urban locations: Kananaskis, Alberta (Canada, 2002); Evian-les-Bains (France,2003); Sea Island, Georgia (U.S.A., 2004); Gleneagles, Scotland (UK,2005); Streina, St. Petersburg (authoritarian Russia, 2006); Heiligendman, Mecklenberg-Vorpommen (Germany, 2007); Toyaku (Lake Toya), Hokkaido (Japan, 2008); L’Aguillo, Abruzzo (Italy,2009); Huntsville, Ontario (Canada, 2010);  and Deauville, Basse-Normandie (France,2011).[2]  Do G8 planners really want to return to a big city environment during an age of elite-imposed capitalist austerity and in the wake of the related outbreak of the greatest wave of left urban protest to emerge in the West in many decades?  

 

To compound their protest problem, Rahmbo sweetened the G8 target by combining it with the meetings of the rich states’ murderous U.S.-led military alliance – the North American Treaty Organization (NATO).  “Despite its claims,” Chicago-based peace activist Brian Terell rightly noted on ZNet last January, “NATO was never a defensive alliance. It is structured to wage ‘out of area’ wars in Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, as well as to ‘contain’ China [and, Terell might have added, Russia].” The U.S. occupation of Afghanistan (2001-20??) – a criminal and mass-murderous action from the start – is technically a NATO operation.

 

The idea of combining the two summits in the Second City belonged to Emmanuel.  “After it was determined in December 2010 that the United States would be the host of the G-8 and NATO summit meetings,” the New York Times reported last week, “the Obama administration announced within months that Chicago would be the site [for both]. The idea was less Mr. Obama’s than the brainchild of Rahm Emanuel, then the White House chief of staff….” (J. Calmes, “Camp David, Not Chicago, to Host G-8,” NYT, March 5, 2012)

 

Here Emmanuel unwittingly did the left he abhors something of a potential favor.  The global justice movement that arose in the late 1990s and sparked repression in Seattle (1999), Washington DC (2000), and Genoa (2001) was focused on economic and environmental matters almost to the point of excluding the more-than-lingering problem of imperial militarism – U.S. imperialism (displayed in the bombing of Serbia that preceded the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle by many months).When the 2001 jetliner attacks provided “the new Pearl Harbor” that gave official justification for an epic U.S. war campaign in Afghanistan and Iraq, the global justice movement was ill-equipped to respond. This was a shame (from a radical perspective) since corporate globalization and American military imperialism were (and remain) two sides of the same world state-capitalist coin. This basic truth was expressed (in an approving way) by the leading neoliberal propagandist Thomas Friedman in a March 28, 1998, New York Times Magazine article on the need to project U.S. power. “For globalization to work,” Friedman wrote, “America can't be afraid to act like the almighty superpower that it is. The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15, and the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technology is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.”

 

Besides upping the Age of Occupy protest ante by joining two summit targets in one big “global city” time and place,  Emmanuel’s bid to combine the G8 and NATO’s seemed almost calculated to help the left overcome differences between its economic and global justice wing on one hand and its anti-imperialist and antiwar wing on the other.  It promised to unite those angry at Obama because of his service to the permanent dictatorship of money with those angry at Obama because of his intimately related service to the permanent war party.  It suggested the basic left point that corporate-financial globalization and American militarism are “two wings of the same [world-capitalist] bird of prey.”

 

Rahmbo and others in Chicago’s elite knew that their “Global Crossroads” dream carried what one local news station (WLS-ABC) called “the prospect of large-scale protests stealing the stage as the world watches.” But they had a plan to deal with that likelihood: repression, global city-style. The city has been “training thousands of officers in tactics for mass arrests and containment” (the Chicago Sun Times) for months now.  The Mayor warned downtown businesses to expect property damage and told them to increase private security during the summits. He prepared to saturate the downtown (at massive taxpayer expense) with heavily equipped and militarized riot police (required “if you want to be a global city”) and made contact for repression assistance with surrounding city and suburban police forces, the Cook County Sheriff’s office, the state police, and the Illinois National Guard. Last January 18th, moreover, Emmanuel pushed through his obedient City Council a draconian anti-protest ordinance that:

 

* Increased the minimum fine for violation of the City’s parade permit ordinance from $50 to $200.

 

* Required protest organizers to provide the City ahead of demonstrations with a list of all signs, banners, sound equipment or other “attention-getting devices” that required more than one person to carry them, creating what activists call “a license for the city to ‘ding’ organizers with absurd fines.”


* Required downtown protest marches to obtain $1 million in insurance coverage to “indemnify the city against any additional or uncovered third party claims…arising out of or caused by the parade.” Protest groups would have to “agree to reimburse the city for any damage to the public way or city property arising out of or caused by the parade.”


* Permitted the “deputizing of ‘law enforcement’ from the DEA, the FBI the Illinois State Police, and “other law enforcement agencies” (including private security firms like Blackwater) determined by the superintendent of police to be “necessary for the fulfillment of law enforcement functions.”  

 

Most disturbing of all, the “Global Crossroads” hosting committee announced last January that the Illinois State Crime Commission was “urgently seeking Iraq-Afghanistan combat veterans” to fill security positions for the summits. “As in other ‘global cities,’” Terell noted, “these veterans will be used as private mercenaries without the legal protections and benefits of public employees…In answer to a potentially volatile situation in the streets of Chicago, the commission is not seeking workers trained in conflict resolution, but it has an urgent need for ex-soldiers trained in the violent chaos of Iraq and Afghanistan [emphasis added]. These veterans urgently need treatment and meaningful employment, but at the ‘global crossroads,’ they are offered only temp jobs as rent-a-cops protecting the interests of their exploiters.”

 

The Last Thing the President Needs

 

Seasoned Washington observers found it odd that the White House suddenly and without explanation announced the G8’s shift to Camp David. As veteran New York Times correspondent Jackie Calmes noted last week, “the change was unusual given the months-long lead time that such events require.” Stranger still, “President Obama has boasted for months about playing host to the annual summit meeting of the Group of 8 industrialized nations this May in his hometown, Chicago” (Calmes, “Camp David, Not Chicago”).

 

Obama has cited the desire for a “more casual backdrop” and worries about traffic as the reasons for the late move to the woods of Maryland.  Administration officials told reporters that “the prospect of…protests…was not a factor in the decision to change locations.” That was a bold-faced lie. The truth of the matter is captured well by 1960s veteran Danny Schechter in a recent ZNet commentary:

 

“The President has been playing Ronald Reagan these days, talking tough while feinting towards the center. What he most decidedly does not want to do is play Hubert Humphrey and relive the summer of 1968 in Chicago. That’s why the G8 meeting was shifted from contested ground there to safe space in the ultra-secure, well-guarded environment of Maryland’s Camp David. The last thing the President needs in the middle of his campaign is another police riot in the Second city [emphasis added]. Someone must have pointed out that the Occupy Movement was already in the process of planning another battle ala Seattle in the very heartland of the Obama Empire. Even the editor of Adbusters, who issued the call to occupy Zuccotti Park last September, now had his megaphone fixed on the Second City. The world movement that has mobilized to confront so many G8 had this one in its crosshairs for month. Sweet Home Chicago was in line to become a sweet home for a world of angry protesters, not just Americans. That has to be stopped or diverted, and it was.”

 

Leading Chicago activist Andy Thayer tells the Chicago Tribune that “protests will go forward” since “We believe that NATO is, frankly, the de facto military arm of G-8 and anybody who’s upset with G-8 should be upset with NATO.” He’s right. The war party and the money party are two wings of the same bird of prey.  They are joined together on the back of the rapacious global vulture that is American Empire and Inequality, Inc.  The city remains a fitting grassroots protest, resistance, and organizing site both within and beyond its corporate downtown and with or without international summits of the rich and powerful. 

 

Paul Street ([email protected]) is the author of many books and studies, including Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis: A Living Black Chicago History (Rowman&Littlefield, 2007); Still Separate, Unequal: Race, Place, Policy, and the State of Black Chicago (Chicago, IL: Chicago Urban League, 2005); and Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Paradigm, 2004).

 

Notes



[1] For my own attempts to keep up with the exhausting record of that service, see my book The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Paradigm, 2010) and subsequent essays linked at www.paulsrtreet.org

 

[2] Previous G8 and G8 predecessor (G6 and G7) summits were held in relatively protest-accessible, cities including London (1977, 1984, 1991), Tokyo (1979, 1983,1996), Toronto (1988), Paris (1989), Bonn (1978, 1985),  Denver (1997),  Munich (1992), Venice (1987), Houston (1990), and Halifax (1995). 

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