Chicago–“Some of us killed innocents. Some of us helped in continuing these wars from home. Some of us watched our friends die. Some of us are not here because we took our own lives. We did not get the care promised to us by our government. All of us watched failed policies turn into bloodshed. Listen to us, hear us, and think: Was any of this worth it? Do these medals thank us for a job well done? Do they mask lies, corruption, and abuse of young men and women who swore to defend their country? We tear off this mask. Hear us.”
That is how Alejandro Villatoro of Iraq Veterans Against the War began the moving ceremony May 20 where almost 50 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans each announced why they were throwing their medals back to the generals. It came at the end of the march of thousands down Michigan Avenue, the biggest in a week of protests occasioned by the May 20-21 NATO summit here. The ceremony–held as close to the summit as the occupying army of police from numerous jurisdictions, National Guard and private contractors would allow–followed a speech from members of Afghans for Peace about the horrors of U.S./NATO occupation of their country and their statement of solidarity with anti-war U.S. veterans.
Contradictions in the movement were on display too, as many marchers thought that the highest expression of anti-imperialism was to defend dictator Bashar al-Assad from an imagined NATO plan to invade Syria. There was lively debate about such positions, especially at the People’s Summit the weekend before the NATO event. But there’s truly a problem when people who hail Assad as an anti-imperialist hero are accepted as a legitimate part of the Left and of Occupy.
The week of protests was not limited to anti-war: National Nurses United held a rally of thousands, denouncing Wall Street plunder and healthcare cutbacks; protesters demanding the right to healthcare continued their 24/7 camps in front of two recently shuttered city mental health clinics and marched to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s house; an immigrants’ rights march was followed by a sit-in; and anti-eviction campaigners set up furniture in a downtown Citibank, dramatizing the plight of people whose homes have been taken away and demanding a moratorium on foreclosure evictions in Cook County.
Two dozen demonstrators were seriously injured by police; several people who had livestreamed the protest on the web were detained at gunpoint; and, most notoriously, the local prosecutor tried to paint the movement as “terrorist” by entrapping five out-of-towners in violent plots hatched, or possibly fabricated, by police spies. Occupy Chicago members were involved in all protests, signaling that the movement is undaunted by continuing repression.