Chicago Battening Down for NATO

April 22, 2012 Updated: April 23, 2012
Justin Lyon from the Chicago Architecture Foundation
Justin Lyon from the Chicago Architecture Foundation stands beside a model of the city. Protesters will march through the city to end up at the McCormick Place Convention Center, which is just about where Mr. Lyons's leg meets the model. (Shar Adams/The Epoch Times)

The 25th summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) will be held in Chicago next month, and city dwellers are battening down for the onslaught with mixed feelings.

“We are excited, but we are a little nervous too about what might happen,” Justin Lyons, director of communications for the Chicago Architecture Foundation told The Epoch Times, “I think the entire city is embracing it, but cautiously embracing it.”

The summit will see 50 heads of state and government descend upon the Windy City from May 19–21. Along with officials and ensuing media, approximately 10,000 people are expected.

Protesters are also expected through groups like Occupy Chicago, hacking group Anonymous, and the Coalition Against NATO/G8 War & Poverty Agenda (CANG8). A joint People’s Summit will be held in Chicago the week prior, with a rally at Daley Plaza, May 20, followed by a march through the city to the summit venue, McCormick Place Convention Center, just outside the main city loop.

A YouTube video, allegedly from Anonymous, is calling for 50,000 protesters to come to Chicago for the entire month of May.

“We will set up tents, barricades, kitchens, and peacefully occupy Chicago for one month,” the video post says.

Security Tight

Security forces have also been preparing. Melissa Stratton, director of news affairs for the Chicago Police Department, said officers have been trained by the Center for Domestic Preparedness as part of national security protocol for an event of NATO’s magnitude.

“Training has been designed to provide our officers with knowledge of tactical, logistical, and legal issues relevant to hosting these special events, and also to improve understanding of the dynamics of crowd management, and First Amendment activity,” Ms. Stratton said.

State-of-the-art solar bins
State-of-the-art solar bins, which are scattered throughout downtown Chicago, will be removed from around the city because they are not transparent, making it difficult to determine if there is anything dangerous inside. They will be replaced with wire bins for the duration of the NATO event. (Shar Adams/The Epoch Times)

Permits for four events have been issued, from Friday, May 18 through Sunday, May 20, she said. The police department estimates approximately 7,500 protesters overall.

Chicago media have reported that military helicopters have been running drills over the city, that over 1,000 new shields have been purchased for riot police, and that as many as 600 Illinois National Guard soldiers will be employed to ferry delegations around town.

Every detail is being covered, right down to the trash bins. Chicago is the proud owner of 400 solar-powered garbage containers, known as BigBelly or “smart cans” because they are programmed to send emails informing workers when they are full. But the bins, which are scattered along downtown protest routes, are not transparent, making it difficult to determine if anything dangerous may be lingering inside. To make for a safer event, officials want to replace the cans with wire baskets, the Chicago Tribune reported.

NATO

NATO has 28 member countries and 22 partner countries. At the summit, nations are expected to reaffirm their transatlantic connection, focusing on three main themes, according to a NATO statement: “the Alliance’s commitment to Afghanistan through transition and beyond; ensuring the Alliance has the capabilities it needs to defend its population and territory and to deal with the challenges of the 21st century; and strengthening NATO’s network of partners across the globe.”

Chicago, President Obama’s hometown, will be the first U.S. city outside the nation’s capital to hold a NATO summit. Also known as the “City of the Big Shoulders,” Chicago was originally planned to host dual summits with the G8 joining in. The venue was changed, however, earlier this year when Obama suggested the informal environment at Camp David as more appropriate for the G8.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, said all the more attention could now be focused on NATO.

“Hosting the NATO Summit is a tremendous opportunity to showcase Chicago to the world and the world to Chicago, and we are proud to host the 50 heads of state, foreign and defense ministers from the NATO and ISAF countries in our great city May 19–21.”

But even with only one summit of world powers, protestors are expected in full force, and demonstrators are encouraged that their participation will have a significant impact. According to protest groups, the change in venue for the G8 already represents a victory.

“The leaders of the 1 percent are moving because of the overwhelming resistance to the NATO/G8 war and poverty agenda in Chicago,” the Coalition Against NATO/G8 said in a statement.

The group blamed world leaders for the economic crisis and said the upcoming protests will focus on “Jobs, Housing, Healthcare, Education, Our Pensions, the Environment: Not War.”

But it’s not just world leaders, protestors are taking shots at city officials too. In preparation for the event, the Chicago City Council raised fines for resisting arrest from as little as $25 to as much as $1,000 and will be closing public parks, playgrounds, and beaches in the area.

“The city has carried out a campaign to intimidate and vilify protesters, claiming that protests lead to violence,” the coalition said. “In fact, the main source of violence in the world today is the wars being waged by NATO and the United States.”

Chicago’s Time to Shine

Meanwhile, Chicago businesses are excited that the world will soon gain a deeper understanding of their city. They hope people will learn it’s much more than just gangster Al Capone and sports star Michael Jordan.

Mr. Lyons from the city’s Architecture Foundation said Chicago actually had the distinction of being one of America’s greenest cities. “There’s a lot to do here,” he said, mentioning the beautiful parks and public art. The Architecture Foundation alone runs over 80 tours around the city and they expect the NATO summit to be a busy week for them.

“Any chance we get to have people come internationally and take them on tours, we are happy to do so,” he said.

While local organizations have been briefed about security measures, including protest routes and street closures, there’s only so much that can be done. The Foundation tour now has a crisis management team in place, but the main message for now is: “Business as usual.”

“Take advantage of this opportunity and just embrace it,” Mr. Lyons said.