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Say No to NATO - Report of the 2012 Chicago NATO Summit

Andrea Pettersson & Anna Sanne Göransson

We were sent to represent the European NVDA network at the Counter-Summit for Peace and Economic Justice in Chicago, which ran in parallel with NATO’s 2012 summit. We went to the Counter-Summit to network, build relations and strengthen the movement on both sides of the ocean by making contacts and sharing experiences. We gave a workshop on our NVDA-actions against NATO in Europe and talked about the European Antimilitaristic Network (EAN). We were honored and happy to do so and hope that hearing about our experiences is useful for you all.

The counter summit lasted just two days (less than our travel time) but we were lucky enough to be able to take time off from our studies and work to stay in Chicago for almost two weeks. Friendly people hosted us; many of them were involved in the up-coming actions against NATO or in other local struggles. We adopted YOLO (You Only Live Once) as our motto during our two weeks, meeting as many interesting people and organizations as we could. The Counter-Summit meant a lot of them were gathered in a small space and time and luckily we had more time than the packed weekend to follow.

The Peoples' Summit

Anna attended the Peoples' Summit organized by Occupy in conjunction with the G8-summit. The economic summit was supposed to be held parallel with the NATO meeting but was moved to Camp David, Maryland in fear of protesters. The Peoples' Summit was located in an industrial venue beyond Chinatown. It had a welcoming feeling (plus the bracelets!) of a festival and it was a great way to get to know the local Chicago activist scene and its struggles. One impressive speaker was Mumia Abu Jamal, who spoke live on the phone from prison, making the room burst out in cheers. Anna had the chance to meet and interview various people, among them the retired Colonel Ann Wright, an experienced anti-war activist. The coffee-breaks were even more intense and interesting than the seminars.

Especially memorable was a nurse who made the links between austerity and militarism clear with everyday glimpses of the lives of people who “couldn’t afford” to live any longer if they became ill. She showed us how the costs of ongoing and coming wars are prioritized over social costs. For example, cuts in mental healthcare at the same time as ex-soldiers come home with PTSS.

Counter-Summit for Peace and Economic Justice

The Counter-Summit started off with the beats of the hip-hop duo Rebel Diaz getting people to “put their hands up”. The seminars and speeches that followed were all interesting and we wished (as usual) that we could clone ourselves! The summit consisted of 28 workshops and was prepared by 40 peace, faith and economic justice groups in a coalition called Network for a NATO-Free Future. The summit was held in a people’s church and was wonderfully-facilitated by volunteers from a Chicago college. The American Friends Service Committee and Peace Action were the main organizers and did a wonderful job. Among the speakers were Vijay Prashad, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Suraia Suhar from Young Afghans for Peace, and Sarita Gupta from Jobs with Justice. The themes ranged from the current NATO missile defense system, and the role of the European Union in NATO strategy, to the environmental costs of war. Other topics were countering military involvement in schools, the Asia Pacific Pivot and “Move the Money from Wars and New Weapons to Fund Our Communities!”. The international presence was remarkable, as was the mix of people from all over the US. Interactive workshops were mixed with traditional lectures and both the analyses and the methods inspired us. As it is impossible to summarize all the lectures and workshops, we recommend that you look up – and get inspired by - the speakers (at http://www.natofreefuture.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/2May.pdf).

Workshop

We tried to narrow down the entire European NVDA movement to fit into a workshop lasting an hour and a half: not the easiest task! Of course, we couldn’t talk of every action and all the methods so we limited it to three sections:

  • an overview of NATO's presence in Europe and organizations of resistance, brief description of the EAN
  • actions and methods: three examples of actions during the past 4 years where methods have differed due to conditions. The cases described were Strasbourg in 2009 (road blocking; how to work in a violent environment), Luleå 2011 (individualized mass action; examples of creativity) and Bruxelles 2012 (five-finger tactic). Photos and videos were used to illustrate all three actions. We talked about similarities between the situations in Strasbourg 2009 and Chicago 2012, as both are big cities and 'security' is high.
  • an excerpt from exercises used in the NVDA-trainings in Europe (four corners; the thermometer; and getting groups to draw the typical European/American activist).The very same workshop was also held for the WRL Chicago chapter where participants were veterans from IVAW and Veterans for Peace.

Thoughts after workshop

Most members of the EAN are countries based in Western Europe. We suggested that this was due to written and oral language barriers and NATO being quite welcome in some of the Eastern European countries (especially the former-Soviet ones). A tradition of collaboration between certain countries/organizations might also be an influence. The drawing of the typical European/American activist led to interesting discussions on this issue and also on the age, color, background etc. that people imagine a peace activist to be.

People attending the workshop seemed to enjoy the videos shown before the events (especially the ones from Strasbourg 2009 and Bruxelles 2012), the action results section, and the creativity the most. It was a special feeling that we want to convey to you all - to stand there just one or two days ahead of a big NATO meeting and say that a few years ago we stopped and delayed the NATO-delegates for several hours by well-organized, peaceful blockades. By watching people’s expressions as we told this we learned to appreciate our European networks' organizing abilities, and we want to convey this amazement to you organizers out there. What we do here might seem impossible to people far away, and so sharing news of our successes is very inspiring

Organizations and people we met

Voices for Creative Nonviolence live and work in a cozy house; their work also seems to be their livelihood. They run a lot of inspiring campaigns and have good contacts with Afghans for Peace.

We also met with Havaar, an up and coming Iranian-American organization working against the economic sanctions on Iran. Their workshop caused some tension as a majority of the American left feels that criticizing the Iranian regime benefits the pro-'bomb Iran' lobby.

One night we listened to Medea Benjamin of Code Pink talk about her new book Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control. We visited a US-Palestinian Naqba event and heard stories of occupation and the request to challenge NATO too, as a staunch ally of Israel. Anna participated in the action to break bread and encourage true withdrawal from Afghanistan at the Obama Re-Election headquarters, organized by Catholic Workers.

Global Grassroots Justice Alliance had us listening in awe one late evening telling us about their various local networks and activists able to connect local oppression to global events. They occupy mental healthcare centers and do other kinds of direct actions where, thanks to good planning, organizers without papers participate - without risking arrest.

AAAN (Arab American Action Network) is a group of Arab youth building its capacity to be an active agent for positive social change. We assisted the WRL coordinators Kimber Heinz and Ali Issa in their workshop about NATO and the G8. Quote from participant: “But if the US are the strong ones, shouldn't Palestine be with them?”

During the workshop 'Resisting the Militarization of Youth' we met Brian Galaviz from the AFSC. We are thinking of inviting them to Sweden - it might be a good way to both educate and raise awareness about the very-near future among people (especially kids) here.

We had a tapas night with IVAW (Iraq Veterans Against the War) and Veterans for Peace (Rosalie Riegle’s initiative). This was very much appreciated and one of the most rewarding meetings during our stay. Talking to people who have experienced both the inside and the after-effects of the war machine was quite mind-blowing. Josh, Charles, Will, Abdullah Ray and Ann Wright are all veterans that we talked to, and the picture of life in the military became clearer.

The protest

The demonstration consisted of about 3000 people and the rally started at 9am . As US-protest newbies we were there at 9am sharp and therefore didn’t miss a single one of the 45 speakers. In the end we lost track of all the clever reasons to end war but got to mingle and network under the hot Chicago sun.

The demonstration left after noon and ended with war veterans throwing their medals symbolically towards the NATO summit, each of them with their own reasons why they did not want to wear them. "I was in Iraq in '03 and what I saw there crushed me" said veteran Ash Wilson. "I don't want us to suffer this again, and I don't want our children to suffer this again. So I'm giving these [medals] back." Afghans for Peace told their story in a wonderful-delivered poem making some of us cry. We left the protest feeling a bit of an anti-climax, as police had taken over the streets, bosses had told their workers to stay at home and tabloids had informed locals that protesters “were here to hurt them”. Unfortunately not many people had the opportunity to see all of the local and global struggles united against the world's biggest war machine.

General thoughts

With Ali and Kimber (from WRL) we had intense discussions on why it is that some people in the US and Europe engage strongly in peace work and why a big group of others who are actually more affected by war politics don't get involved. Is this because the links are hard to make? Because people have other issues to fight for - more urgent and easier to connect to aspirations for a better life? Is this a failure of the peace movement? Most certainly it's important for any movement to ask itself why so many who would benefit from the success of the movement don't seek to put their hearts into it.

After speaking with Vijay Prashad and various veterans we thought more about the common narrative of peace and war. People tend to think about war only as combat, and soldiers as the ones upholding the military system; as if militarism was only those carrying the arms and wearing the uniforms. Like Colonel Ann Wright said “I never got close to shooting, and that made it easier for me to pretend as if I wasn't part of it”. “It” being the maintainence of the system that enables the shooting. A slogan like “Bring the troops home” doesn't capture the whole picture, or worse, it misleads us to conclude that if the troops are taken home, peace will be installed. Thousands of people keep working to sustain war politics in administrations. Others live and work at military bases that - alongside with foreign companies - remain in occupied countries long after the troops are gone.

Being Swedish we understood from the way people talked about Occupy that it has played an important role also for the peace and justice movements. We liked the use of “the 1%” and “the 99%” as an easy way of describing the very few profiting from war and capitalism and the majority that doesn’t. Opinions amongst people we met were diverse but it seemed that Occupy has been able to connect many struggles and has broadened the movement. For example, young people and non-academics have joined in more than before. To us it was interesting to see, as Occupy has not really hit it off in Sweden; it’s intriguing to see what makes something work at a given moment in one place but not in another, although the timing is the same.

As at many other times we thought about how actually meeting people in real life triumphs over any other form of meeting. It's easier to understand things and gives so much more information on many levels. It also facilitates the future communication via the Internet etc. WRI is already putting this into practice a lot. We want to emphasize how well it works. Exchanges in person could be a way to create more cooperation between peace organizations – from both eastern and western Europe and elsewhere – who do not yet realise that they are allies.

Austerity - a word not commonly used in the Swedish peace movement - now has a deeper meaning for us. We strongly agree about the links here (how cuts in social welfare pay for wars abroad) and we know our Spanish colleagues have brought this up at earlier European meetings. Nowadays more than ever this is something we need to emphasize. We really appreciated that this link was made visible by all the organizations from various movements meeting together, and even in the name of the summit. Definitely something to bring back to Europe.

Thanks

We want to thank everyone that made us feel so welcome and opened their homes and minds and shared their experiences, methods and visions with us. We are thankful, lucky and proud to be your colleagues overseas! Especially big thanks to:

Ali Issa and Kimber Heinz (WRL New York organizers) for preparing our stay, getting us a workshop slot and for the never-ending interesting discussions and the good hanging out time.

Rosalie Riegle and Sandi Wisenberg for kindly letting us stay in their homes, giving us warm beds, coffee in the morning and making us feel welcome.

The WRI London office for the confidence to be representatives overseas and to Carlos Perez Barranco from MOC Valencia for kindly sharing his past experience with us.

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