Victor Werbin Reports on the NATO Protest in Chicago

NOB HILL--Not everyone stayed in the Duke City watching the annular eclipse.  Victor Werbin, my neighbor across the street, and his girlfriend Sally Beers went to the Occupy protest in Chicago that accompanied the NATO conference there.  They just returned Monday night.  Here is Victor’s report.

His first impression as he got off the el at the library was of the overwhelming police presence, both state and local.  There were long lines of security vehicles.  Ten police officers were on every corner, helicopters circled overhead, police on horseback stood by.  Everyone would come running whenever anybody got together.  Click on the picture below and read what is on the front of the buses.  Where one would expect to see a street name, one says "CHICAGO IS."  The other--"MY KIND OF TOWN".  These were the buses used to transport the police.  Police humor!

Little Marches
The first march Victor and Sally attended was one put on by the nurse’s union on Friday afternoon.  The nurses had obtained a permit for the march but it had been yanked a couple of days before.  As the marchers started coming from Daley Plaza police started breaking it up...diverting people this way and that.  (By Monday, the same police were leading these little marches, escorting them rather than breaking them up).

As it was, many of the streets were closed as was the Outer Drive.  One couldn’t get anywhere near the convention center.  All the museums and the Chicago Art Institute were closed for the weekend.

The Boogiemen
According to Victor, every protestor had a pleasant conversation with a policeman at some point.  He talked to one cop who told him it was all about the anarchists--the Black Bloc.  These protestors who dress in black with concealed faces were supposed to be anarchists and were the boogiemen of the whole thing.  Some people said they were mostly undercover agents who informed on others and provoked the police at the behest of authorities.

Apparently some of them are wanted “worldwide.”  They are hard to identify because of their masked aspect that also makes it hard to identify them as undercover operatives at the same time.  At any rate, the Black Bloc just wants to make trouble according to the policeman with whom Victor talked.

No Mace
President Obama stayed at the Sheraton Hotel downtown, a building that was totally surrounded by snow plows.  Yes, snow plows.  Victor said he could see the Secret Service arriving--and he did say “arriving”, not “coming.”

One person was hit by a police van which was driven into a crowd of people by “an out of control cop who wouldn’t stop.”  But Victor then said something quite remarkable about a conversation he had overheard between a couple of officers.  What they were saying was, “No tear gas.  No mace.  Keep under control.  Try not to hit anyone.  Surround everything.  Keep friendly.”  For the most part this seems to have described the tenor of the weekend.

No Arlo
Saturday night there was a concert at the Metro Center commemorating Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday.  Featuring Tom Morello and Holly Near.  Tom Morello, by the way, was Bill Moyer's guest last night on his talk show and was so articulate.  Amy Goodman was there recording it for her Democracy Now show.  It was a three hour event.  I asked if Arlo Guthrie was there.  Apparently he was not.

“It’s Not Your Fault!”
The Big March was on Sunday.  Some of the media estimated the crowd at 2000, but Victor called it at 10,000.  “I did the math,” he said, “2000 per block.”  The march was singularly focused on its anti-war theme.  The speakers were veterans, families of vets, families of vets who had committed suicide, and others who had been profoundly affected by the war.  “One vet standing next to me in the crowd got so emotional he was crying and trying to give his medals away.  You could see cops choking up.  The whole thing was about soldiers apologizing to the Afghan and American people.  The crowd was shouting, ‘It’s not your fault.””

After this heavily emotional scene the crowd tried to disperse.  There was only one way out, a small path going west.  The vets walked out first.  Sally and Victor followed them a little ways to see what was going on.  “The police at that point said, ‘Okay, we told you to leave--now it’s going to get ugly!’”

The ACLU Wore Orange
“Things did get ugly, but not too bad.  Most cops were still friendly.”  One group of “over-armed” police waded into the crowd pushing.  “I couldn’t see how the crowd was even going to move to the west.  It was almost like there was this whole other group of cops that were trained to disperse the crowd even though it was only 15 minutes after all those emotional speeches.”

The Lawyers Guild and the ACLU were there in numbers...right in the middle of it.  The Lawyers Guild people wore green hats.  The ACLU wore orange.  “They would walk right in there and get pictures.  Everybody knew where they were if someone needed them.  They stayed in the middle of it when the cops started wading in, getting pictures, recording everything that happened.”

Victor continued that there were so many police that they really didn’t have to worry about anything.  To show how different other events events were, by Monday a rally was held without a permit at the Boeing headquarters and the police actually led the parade.

What It Was All About
But Sunday was a focused anti-war rally.  “The real story,” said Victor, “was the soldiers throwing away their medals...their mothers sharing...the shame and weeping.  Any soldier with any conscience or intelligence came away changed.  These people on stage participated in it.  They saw it first hand.  They should be listened to.  This was what it was all about.”

Views: 450

Comment by Krista on May 23, 2012 at 9:15am

Really wonderful piece that humanized both sides without blame.  I hope that NATO does listen to those on the ground, those who understand.  

Comment by BARBARA BYERS on May 27, 2012 at 8:22am

Thanks, Victor. This is amazing. We heard about it, but this was from you, on our street. We walk by there all the time. Maybe now we will stop and say hello.

Comment by Margaret Randall on May 27, 2012 at 8:29am

This is the kind of real news that needs to get out, rather than the dismissive "reporting" the commercial press does to dispense with this sort of authentic people's protest. Thank you Victor and Sally, for representing us in Chicago, and for telling it like it was. Thank you Jon for sharing this. To me, the most poignant issue is our government's placement of young people in the path of life-altering danger, making the policy that deals death to victims and victimizers alike something we all must grapple with if we hope to keep on living. The veterans tossing back their medals says it all.


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