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In the Wake of NATO
I may not have been there for the NATO Summit this year, but I was there for all of what surrounded the event. My vacation to Florida was much more reluctantly taken when I finally found that the events taking place literally right across the street from my apartment, at the intersection of Balbo and Michigan outside of the Hilton, would fall on a weekend when I'd be halfway across the country, dangling on the country's southernmost phallus of a state. Perhaps it was for the best.
I recall the Blackhawk birds flying in the air the months before the big political cluster. They arrived like a solemn parade, silent until they'd reach right outside the windows with a constant thunderous humming. Assault-rifled troops sat facing the city in all directions, three on either side of every hawk. They let us know they were watching, that government could be right above your roofs or traversing between high rises in a matter of seconds. I watched as they circled the South Loop every evening, in magnificently planned patterns, and gazed in awe as three flew in a flock not more than thirty feet above my building, out between the Hilton and the neighboring apartment, over Lake Michigan, until they finally broke free of each other; it was like a scene out of Apocalypse Now. Instead of sirens, the warning came in the form of night watchers.
When NATO finally arrived, seemingly everybody in my college's fiction department half-expected (some fully expecting) a fiery echo of the Democratic National Convention that took place in 1968. Police brutality or at the least a bitter tension was entirely probable. I could only read scattered articles from afar in my pitiful safe house of Orlando about the streams of arrests, the protestors in some ways begging for police to hit them and herd them. I'd read an article and saw a video of a man who ripped a sign off of a bridge just off of Michigan and was taken into custody. I saw Youtube footage of men being battered by police. Overall, I wish I'd been there. Instead of sensationalized news I saw what looked like minimal news coverage. I needed to see it for myself.
The protests were filled with echoes of previous protests in Chicago, including of course the OWS protests with their anti-corporate shouts. The streets were filled with people who genuinely loved their country, people I wasn't entirely sure existed anymore. If the NATO protests didn't move any political infrastructures, they certainly restored the idea that America is a country where voices can still say what they will to. You can't tell Americans that they're to be quiet, not yet. And while it may seem like many of the protests were simply there to protest, rather than support a clear-cut cause outside of preserving free speech and expression, it still makes it obvious that this country's citizens at least have that ability.
The one thing that's bothered me is that nobody is still talking about it. It's only been a month since the crowds were gathered, men and women enduring stifling heat (and knowing Chicago, cold as well) in order to save what they believe could be the everlasting fall of this country. If nothing else, NATO still represents the idea that some miniscule amount of freedom is allowed of us, but the one thing I never truly got was: what is the message? While the Democratic National Convention protestors of '68 had a set of primary goals set in mind, to fight the scandalous and perverse reign of Pinnochio-nosed Nixon and end the Vietnam War, I never understood what many were going for this time other than to fold in the chaos by creating chaos. It seemed more like a war against the police, and the police against deliberate provocation instead of the people. In some videos I actually sided with the police, as long as brutality wasn't implemented.
When I got back to Chicago, the streets were no different from when I had left them. No broken windows, no litter--at least no more than usual--on the sidewalks and busy streets. It was clear to me then that maybe I hadn't missed something important, sadly. If the paved and trampled streets below are this resilient then what chance do the protestors have of shaking and tearing the ones up there behind the windows? The suits don't listen to us, they listen to themselves, and instead laugh at us as we fall victim to what has truly come to my attention to be the most corrupt example of capitalism. Although the birds have long since flown off and the crowds have receded back into the calm oceans, there isn't any true sense of accomplishment I feel the people have instilled, though they've tried and still do. All I wish is for that to change, for another intuitive feeling of real purpose to permeate my emotions among the people in this country instead of futile emptiness. I want to feel what Hunter Thompson did before the wave of the sixties made its final roll back. But when nobody's talking, that likely means nothing's moving. I don't know when the talking will truly begin, but I hope it does, and soon.