NATO Blog: The stage is set for summit, protests
9:45 a.m. CDT, May 20, 2012
Protesters gathering in Chicago for the NATO summit are gearing up for their largest demonstration today. Thousands are expected to march from a downtown park to the lakeside convention center where President Barack Obama and dozens of other world leaders will tackle Afghanistan’s future — from funding for security forces to upcoming elections.
Gathering at Grant Park : ‘Very, very symbolic event’ 9:38 a.m.
Mo Hannah, left, prepares signs near the Petrillo band shell in Grant Park. (Ryan Haggerty, Chicago Tribune)
Small groups of protesters have begun to arrive at the Petrillo Music Shell in Grant Park, preparing signs and banners for the anti-war rally and march that begins at noon.
Most sought shade under trees around the edges of the park, trying to hide from the sweltering sun that promises to make the day hot and muggy.
Meredith Aby, 39, took an overnight bus from Minneapolis to Chicago to join the protest, arriving around 6:30 a.m. She said she didn’t want to miss the chance to express her disagreement with U.S. wars while so many world leaders are in town.
“I think what makes this protest important is that they don’t usually have these meetings in an urban center,” said Aby, taking a break from stapling protest signs to wooden handles.
“They have these secret, undemocratic meetings, and if we aren’t in the streets, we don’t have a way to voice our opinion,” she said. “We have the opportunity here in Chicago to say no to the war in Afghanistan in person.”
Many protesters interviewed this morning said they view this weekend as an opportunity to protest both NATO and G-8, even though the White House announced in March that it was moving the G-8 summit from Chicago to the Camp David presidential retreat.
Mo Hannah, 59, traveled to Chicago from her home outside Albany, N.Y. She said she’s been preparing for this weekend’s protests for months.
“There’s been a lot of planning going into this,” said Hannah, sitting cross-legged under a tree with a group of people stapling signs to handles in assembly-line fashion. “This is a very, very symbolic event.”
Waking up on Wellington Avenue 9:23 a.m.
Protesters start their day at Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ on Sunday morning. (Michael Tercha, Chicago Tribune)
Man faces terrorism charges in Molotov cocktail plot 8:47 a.m.
Sebastian Senakiewicz (Police photo)
A Northwest Side man has been charged with terrorism and making a false threat, accused of planning to make a Molotov cocktail to be used during the NATO summit.
Sebastian Senakiewicz, 24, of the 3600 block of North Odell Avenue, is the fourth person to be hit with terrorism-related charges this week, but police would not say whether he is connected to three people arrested in a Bridgeport raid earlier this week.
Senakiewicz was arrested Thursday afternoon without incident at his home, according to a police report. He was charged Saturday afternoon.
Senakiewicz “had been planning/conspiring with more than two other individuals in the building of explosives, including molotov cocktails which were to be used/detonated during the NATO summit,” according to the report.
On Wednesday, three out-of-state men were arrested in a Bridgeport apartment raid and accused of plotting to hit President Obama’s campaign headquarters, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s house and police stations with Molotov cocktails, according to court documents.
The trio — Brian Church, 20, of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., Jared Chase, 24, of Keene, N.H., and Brent Vincent Betterly, 24, of Oakland Park, Fla. — were charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism, providing material support for terrorism and possession of an explosive or incendiary device.
They are the first people to ever be charged with violating the state’s anti-terror statutes, which were enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, authorities said.
Their arrests were the result of an investigation since early May into a group suspected of making Molotov cocktails — crude bombs usually created by filling glass beer bottles with gasoline, according to court records.
Senakiewicz was arrested a day later, but police would not say if he was connected to the three.
Senakiewicz has a minor criminal record, according to court documents. In September of 2008, he pleaded guilty to underage drinking, a misdemeanor, and paid a $370 fine and was sentenced to four months of court supervision, which he completed.
Tweets, texting and maybe some sleep 8:39 a.m.
Protesters try to get some sleep early today on a strip of grass outside Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ in Lakeview. (Ryan Haggerty, Chicago Tribune)
Exhausted protesters scattered throughout the city overnight in search of rest, trying to recharge for yet another day of marching and demonstrating as the NATO summit officially gets underway at McCormick Place.
Sleep, however, was at a premium.
Most of the roughly 20 people sprawled in a jumble of sleeping bags and blankets on a strip of grass near Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ in Lakeview were still awake around 4 a.m., talking about Saturday’s protests and swapping tweets and text messages with protesters staying elsewhere.
The church, at 615 W. Wellington Ave., serves as a meeting point and a place for protesters to grab free meals during the day, but protesters are not allowed to sleep inside overnight.
Despite the open-air accommodations, the protesters said they’d be ready for an anti-war rally at noon today at the Petrillo Music Shell in Grant Park, followed by a march to a protest area near McCormick Place.
“We’ll make sure that everything’s peaceful,” said a woman from Occupy Cleveland who gave her name as Gloria, sitting on the ground while others tried to sleep around her. “That’s what we know.”
Thorin Caristo, a protester from New York who has been streaming video of the demonstrations online, said he’s worried that the protests’ message is being overshadowed by the focus on confrontations between demonstrators and police.
“The issue always gets turned into protesters versus cops, and that’s not what we want,” Caristo said, sitting on the front stoop of a house near the church and smoking a cigarette. “Tomorrow, today, whatever — it’s important to get our message out.”
NATO summit tests travelers’ mettle 8:35 a.m.
Protesters give peace signs to drivers on the Kennedy Expressway as they march along Jackson Boulevard late Saturday night. (Brian Cassella, Chicago Tribune)
Police and bomb-sniffing dogs patrolled trains and stations Saturday, screening passengers, checking bags and ordering some travelers to toss prohibited items, including cups of coffee.
Whether they were riding the rails or the roads this weekend, Chicagoans found the NATO summit to be an adventure in national security.
Authorities made a display of tight security at Union and Millennium stations and at the Ogilvie Transportation Center, a high-profile presence that will continue Sunday when the event officially opens. But even riders on trains traversing normally quiet suburbs caught glimpses of heavily armed police.
Saturday kicked off Metra’s three-day ban on bringing large items, food and liquids aboard trains. Enforcement appeared inconsistent, however, depending on the passenger, train and location. Some weren’t allowed to board because they carried too many bags.
Dignitaries filter in as protesters ready for NATO summit 8:26 a.m.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, left, greets President Obama and wife Michelle on the tarmac at O’Hare Airport on Saturday, one day before the start of the NATO summit meetings in Chicago. (Chris Walker, Chicago Tribune)
After all the planning, platitudes and protest, the NATO summit officially gets under way Sunday at McCormick Place, with President Barack Obama and fellow Western military alliance leaders charting the wind-down of involvement in Afghanistan and demonstrators demanding an immediate end.
Thousands of war protesters are expected to rally at Petrillo Music Shell, then march to the edge of McCormick Place, roughly paralleling the same route that just a week later police will free up for thousands of cycling enthusiasts during the annual Bike the Drive event.
Authorities on Saturday released details about the terrorism related arrests of three out-of-state men at a Bridgeport apartment last week, alleging they were “self-proclaimed anarchists” who planned to use Molotov cocktails and other weapons to hit police stations, the home of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Obama’s downtown re-election headquarters.
A Cook County judge ordered the trio held on $1.5 million bail each, and their legal plight quickly offered a new rallying point for protesters who dubbed them the “NATO 3,” playing off the Chicago 7 moniker hung on protest leaders arrested for activities at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago.
An impromptu and unauthorized march of several hundred demonstrators proclaiming solidarity with the three snaked its way around the Loop Saturday afternoon, with police escorts on foot, bicycles and horseback intervening at strategic points to contain the path south of the Chicago River. As darkness fell, the marchers continued to wend their way around downtown.
Despite a lack of permits, police also allowed other demonstrations on the North Side, where a few hundred marchers, some wearing hospital gowns, paraded in front of Emanuel’s house in the Ravenswood neighborhood to protest mental health facility cuts. Later, they joined up with another group of anti-NATO protesters and paraded through nearby streets.
Emanuel wasn’t at home most of Saturday. As protesters gathered outside his house, the mayor was at Hotel Sax attending a meeting for the Young Atlanticist, an organization that identifies the next generation of leaders.
Later, Emanuel praised the police work that led to the terrorism related charges. “The police department and the police officers did a great job,” Emanuel said after attending a reception for Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte Saturday evening. “Don’t worry about me. My focus is on the people of the city of Chicago, their safety and their security.”
Protests on the street did little to deter shoppers and sightseers who thronged downtown on a glorious spring day. Many stopped to gawk and take videos of the marchers on their phones, frustrating at least one protester who identified herself only as Anonymous.
“I feel like the people that are filming us and watching us think we’re ridiculous, but what they should do is join us,” she said.
The inconvenience factor of the summit began to ratchet up late Saturday as motorcades of dignitaries flocking into the city from O’Hare International Airport prompted rolling tie-ups on the Kennedy Expressway. Other security-related road closures also went into effect, including Lake Shore Drive from Balbo Drive to 39th Street. From 4 to 11 p.m. Sunday, the Lake Shore Drive closures will extend north to Grand Avenue.
In addition to foreign dignitaries, also arriving was Secretary of State and Park Ridge nativeHillary Rodham Clinton, who headed Saturday night for Wrigley Field for Game 2 of the Crosstown Classic between the Cubs and White Sox.
Obama arrived Saturday night, fresh from two days of meetings on economic matters at the smaller Group of 8 summit, originally scheduled for Chicago as well but moved by the president to Camp David in the Maryland mountains.
That shift may have taken some of the steam out of protests planned for Chicago, with the ire of many demonstrators focused as much on what they consider inequitable and socially destructive policies of the world’s economic powers as on the military activities of NATO.
The Sunday march and rally is being organized by a group calling itself the Coalition Against NATO/G-8 War & Poverty Agenda, suggesting it plans to emphasize a broad spectrum of grievances. Organizers have predicted they might attract as many as 10,000 demonstrators.
Andy Thayer, one of those organizers, said he and colleagues met briefly Thursday with a top NATO official and told her that “we are very aware of the immense violence and oppression that the U.S. and the U.S. in its NATO guise does to the world, and that no amount of words from her or pronouncements from the summit itself will obscure that.”
Speaking to the Tribune’s editorial board Saturday, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he recognizes the right of protesters to express themselves but also said they were wrong in equating the military alliance to a “war machine.”
“If that’s the basis for the protests, it’s actually based on lack of knowledge. NATO is a peace movement,” said Rasmussen, a former prime minister of Denmark.
“During more than 60 years, NATO has been the bedrock of security in Europe and North America. And thanks to NATO, we have maintained peace and stability in Europe during that long period, since the 2nd World War. It is the longest period of peace in the history of Europe. That’s quite a success. That’s what I call a peace movement,” he said.
Citing NATO’s role in helping to reunify Europe, develop new democracies after the fall of communism and develop actions to protect civilians in Libya, Rasmussen said, “It’s not justified to call NATO a war machine. But again, in a free society, it’s a constitutional right to express yourself — even if your statements are not justified or incorrect or inaccurate.”
Bob Secter, Rick Pearson, Kristen Mack
- Police, protesters clash in Loop – chicagotribune.com (mbcalyn.com)
- One arrested as NATO protesters disperse downtown – Chicago Sun-Times (mbcalyn.com)
- NATO Blog: Some protesters detained as evening march snakes through Loop – chicagotribune.com (faktensucher.wordpress.com)
- Hotels have reservations about NATO’s profit potential – Chicago Sun-Times (mbcalyn.com)
- Protesters Prepare for Larger NATO Demonstration (kstp.com)
- Protesters prepare for larger NATO demonstration (kansascity.com)
- NATO Blog: The stage is set for summit, protests – Chicago Tribune (chicagotribune.com)
- Chicago bracing for anti-NATO marches (upi.com)
- Thousands march to oppose police repression in run-up to NATO summit (occupywallst.org)
- NATO summit opens against backdrop of protests, foiled terror plot (news.blogs.cnn.com)