It’s not you, it’s me, the White House said in announcing their plan to move May’s G8 summit from Chicago to Camp David. They needed their space, they explained, “to facilitate a free-flowing discussion with our close G-8 partners.” But in reality, we all knew: It was us.
Groups from Chicago and around the country have been organizing for months to respond to the twin G8 and NATO summits – closed-door meetings of the global 1% to collaborate on economic and military policy – and both sides recognized the likelihood that this rare meeting of guns and cash would be confronted by the roar of an angry citizenry.
The prospect of such a response, and the political context in which it will take place, was enough to force the Obama administration to reconsider bringing the G8 summit to the president’s hometown and the site of his re-election campaign headquarters.
For undemocratic institutions such as NATO and the G8, there is no place for public input— either in the conference rooms or in the streets — in which the interests of the 99% would be considered above the groups’ agendas of austerity and militarism. The G8’s retreat to the hills of rural Maryland dovetails with the stated solution of Emanuel and the Chicago City Council: the best way to keep you safe is to keep you out of the equation altogether.
Snipers and deputized police will still be flooding into Chicago for the NATO summit, not to protect the delegates but to keep the nurses, school teachers and students from pouring into the streets to protest the fact that the financial crisis came out of their paychecks. With a labor battle against the Chicago Teachers Union expected to escalate in the coming months, Chicago’s rulers are still intent on stifling dissent before and after the summit.
NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is the world’s most powerful military alliance, and critics argue that the coalition has little to do with self-defense and more to do with pushing the interests of the powerful countries that support it. The coalition was originally brought together, in the words of its first secretary general, General Hastings Lionel Ismay, to “keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down,” but since the end of the Cold War, its mission has been expanded to include military operations in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
NATO now has missiles stationed all over the western world, with intentions to extend into Turkey, a fleet of unmanned drones into Libya and Pakistan, and a massive presence on the ground in Afghanistan.
The war in Afghanistan has already cost U.S. taxpayers $416 billion— or more than $1,000 for every person in this country — according to estimates from Brown University. Together, NATO countries spend 70 percent of the world’s military expenditures.
But with the G8 summit now out of the city, will protesters still come for NATO?
Occupy Chicago has called for a “Chicago Spring” to reignite the movement in the warmer months, just in time for the summit, and Adbusters, the magazine that put out the call for Occupy Wall Street, has called for 50,000 people to come to Chicago in May. There will also be a People’s Summit the weekend before NATO comes to Chicago. The festivities are planned to start on May 1, historically celebrated as an international workers’ holiday – and this year it’s the day of a planned nationwide general strike.
Mayor Emanuel has already laid the groundwork to attempt to shut these actions down. In January, the City Council almost unanimously passed a package of measures that critics have called the “Sit Down and Shut Up” ordinance. The bill creates a number of legal hurdles for protest organizers, including a requirement that groups take out insurance of $1 million for parades downtown, and a complicated permitting process that asks organizers to detail any sound system, sign, banner or other “attention-getting device” that will be carried by more than one person.
Intimidation is also a key component of the strategy. The city plans to invite in thousands of out-of-town police officers, whom they will have the authority to deputize in Chicago. The City Council also granted the mayor authority to purchase equipment to handle the crowd, and officials are investing in $2,000 worth of face shields that “will fit easily over gas masks,” protective equipment for horses and aerial surveillance equipment. Snipers are expected to be positioned on Loop rooftops.
The costs of these elaborate “security” arrangements — to say nothing of the expense related to showing the distinguished visitors a grand time — will be between $40 million and $65 million, at least according to official claims. The 2010 G20 summit in Toronto cost nearly $1 billion.
Nonetheless, the outfit tasked with hosting the conferences, World Business Chicago (motto: “Think Business. Think Chicago”) is set to be the most well-fed nonprofit in the world. Placed in charge of fundraising for the summits by its chairman — none other than Rahm Emanuel — the nonprofit is likely to benefit handsomely from the no-bid contracts that the mayor’s office can now sign without the approval of the City Council.
The city has yet to receive any federal grant money to cover the costs of preparation and security for the summit. That means this spending has come out of pocket for the city of Chicago, the same pocket that had only pennies to spare when it came to keeping libraries open, public workers employed and CTA routes running.
Effectively, by pushing the living standard of working people ever lower, Emanuel has created a self-fulfilling prophecy. His austerity measures are forcing people out onto the street in anger. And an aggressive crackdown is only going to raise the stakes.
As publication time, Occupy Chicago is celebrating the departure of G8. But with one summit still to go, the extent of the victory is yet to be determined. There’s only one way to find out what will be.
A version of this article originally appeared in The Occupied Chicago Tribune.