The NATO summit is being paid for by a $19.1 million grant from the federal government, security grants and private donors, including donations from 36 private companies. Donors include military-industrial giants Boeing and Raytheon, as well as FedEx and General Electric. The average contribution is thought to be around $1 million or an in-kind donation of manpower, but donation amounts will not be disclosed until after the summit concludes. At least 11 of the corporate donors have ties to World Business Chicago, whose board is chosen by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Other donors, such as Duke Energy, Caterpillar, and General Electric, have personal ties to either Mayor Emanuel or the Democratic party.
With this appearance of blatant cronyism, coupled with traditional criticisms against NATO, it is not surprising that large-scale rallies and protests are planned for the summit. These include a two-day Counter-Summit For Peace and Economic Justice with plenary speakers and workshops, a Shut Down Boeing event (time TBD), and a large march and rally organized by National Nurses United.
Despite approving the NNU march route several months ago, the city revoked the permit on May 8, citing the addition of musician Tom Morello to the schedule. The city’s proposed changes to the route would effectively nullify its impact by shielding NATO participants from the protesters, something the United States criticizes other countries for doing. On May 12, the NNU compromised with the city to keep the permit, though still agreeing to limit its First Amendment rights by agreeing to abandon the march.
The city is heavily prepared for these demonstrations. The NATO summit is a National Special Security Event, reports the Chicago Sun-Times, with its own flight restrictions and assistance from police coming from as far away as Philadelphia and North Carolina. An event with this designation is considered by the Department of Homeland Security to have an elevated threat of terror attacks. Security is the responsibility of the Secret Service, the FBI is in charge of intelligence and counter-terrorism, and there is additional cooperation between local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. The ACLU notes that protesters may find themselves facing the implications of H.R. 347 – the new questionable new law that carries possible penalties of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The ambiguous language in H.R. 347 is of concern to the ACLU and others. The previous version of this law, the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act, required that the person act willfully and knowingly to be considered in violation. H.R. 347, notes the ACLU, removed “willfully” from the text, meaning that someone who is in a restricted zone but does not know that their remaining there is in violation of the law may be considered to have acted criminally. This NATO summit will be the first real test of H.R. 347.
Kade Ellis of PrivacySOS has detailed the preparations the city has made for the expected influx of protesters, including the militant attitude adopted by Sergeant William Schield after training at the DHS Center for Domestic Preparedness facility.
The facility, located in Anniston, Alabama, trains police and emergency responders to handle mass casualty events, hazardous materials and weapons of mass destruction, suicide bombers, pandemics, and CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) Incidents. What it does not seem to provide is training for law enforcement officials, who are the under the stress of working overtime in tense conditions, to deal with large-scale but peaceful protests. This outside training, focused on terrorism, is the result of budget cuts and the continued encroachment of the DHS into civilian police departments.
Given the conditions, jurisdictional confusion, the focus of Chicago police training, and the popular portrayal of anti-NATO and anti-globalization protests as violent, anarchic riots, the possible intensity of security enforcement is of concern to activists. The city only recently settled a lawsuit with more than 800 plaintiffs who were part of mass arrests in the 2003 Iraq War protests. Aon, the insurance broker who had contracted with the city, only received one bid from the 70 possible carriers to insure police against lawsuits.
Some resources for activists and those attending NATO protests:
- ACLU Report: Know Your Right to Protest in Chicago – includes an overview of the fundamental right to protest, restrictions (including time, place and manner), street and sidewalk protests, and information about specific places in Chicago
- The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has launched a hotline for journalists covering the NATO protests
- The RCFP media hotline, 312-251-1000, will be staffed by volunteers on Sunday (May 20) and Monday (May 21)
- The National Lawyers Guild will provide legal support and a hotline for NATO demonstrators
- Chicago Action Medical will staff a Wellness Center, providing first aid and holistic care, until the 21st