NATO Summit: Student Protestors Prepared to Make Statement

Tessa Simonds Lawler photo by Brittany Lawler

DePaul secondary education major Tessa Simonds plans
to be part of the protests. (Photo by Brittany Lawler)

NATO LogoBy Madeline Szrom and Brittany Lawler
The Red Line Project

Posted: Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Waves of student protestors from throughout the country are expected to descend on Chicago’s front door for the NATO summit in May, forcing political officials and the international community to witness their concerns.

Demonstrators are attempting to spread awareness and educate spectators on their political objections. Students from all over the Chicago area, including DePaul University, Loyola and Columbia College, will be engaging others to voice their own concerns and develop their own opinions.

 “These are the most politically conscious of students, out there,” said Dr. June Terpstra, a professor in Columbia College Chicago’s Department of Humanities, History and Social Sciences. “They are the ones who have learned something about what NATO represents, global militarism and the impact that these decisions of global militarism, which are being made in Chicago, have on the world.”

According to Terpstra, there is apprehension that the younger generations are more concerned with an overwhelming level of materialism rather than politics. And yet, thousands of students are still expected to attend and protest. 

Meghan Trimm, 24, a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a group striving for peace and nonviolence, and the Non-Violent Living Project, a group dedicated to the goal of eliminating violence, believes this apprehension comes from unfair views of yound adults.

“Student movements in this day and age really don’t get a lot of respect,” said Trimm, and undergraduate a Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies major at DePaul University, who will also be protesting with the Fellowship of Reconciliation group. “The age of adolescence has gotten wider and wider so people still look at college students as being immature kids.”

Still, students with many different political backgrounds are coming together to object NATO’s global security control and speak out against the effects the organization has on the U.S. and the rest of the world. 

“The war in Afghanistan is a main one [issue],” said Tessa Simonds, 26, a Secondary Education major with a focus in Social Sciences at DePaul. “You have NATO [forces] invading Afghanistan and that makes them less safe and us less safe.”

Said Trimm: “NATO is a peace keeping force but they use the threat of implicit violence to keep everyone calm. Not only do they do that non-effectively and where it interests them, but that’s not peace.”

Trimm said she believes that peace must be respected and followed not only by members of NATO, but by the protestors as well.

“The most important thing to recognize is that if our protest is going to be successful, it has to be nonviolent,” she said. “It’s going to shut our protest down and the good things we have to say will be overshadowed by our hate.”

Trimm and other students are pushing for their peers to get involved in workshops and tutorials in order to better prepare themselves for the protest, specifically learning how to refrain from resorting to violent measures.

“There is a huge push for nonviolent trainings,” said Simonds, who is involved with Occupy Rogers Park, part of the Coalition Against NATO/G8 (CanG8). “These are essential.  Even the civil rights movements had huge amounts of training. It takes a lot of bravery and courage.”

After months of preparations and rallying support, students have an in depth understanding of what the NATO summit determines, and ramifications generated by those decisions.  However, in the heat of the moment, tensions can easily rise. Trimm states that refraining from throwing rocks or breaking property is the best way to protest.

“You’re not doing anything to the corporations, they’re going to pay $500, which is a drop in the bucket for them, and move on and the clerk that’s in there who just works for the man is the one who is really going to be hurt,” Trimm said.  “You have to be more strategic than that, you have to be.”

Not all protestors think nonviolence is the route to take. Many global anarchist groups, like Black Bloc and Anonymous, are coming to Chicago with the intent of engaging in possible violent acts, experts say.

However, groups like CanG8 and the Fellowship of Reconciliation say are making sure students know the rewards of refusing violence. 

Gatherings like The People’s Summit, May 12-13, located at 500 W. Cermak in Chicago, are just one way for students to educate themselves on the positive effects of nonviolence before the NATO summit.

Video: Student protestor Meghan Trimm discusses the cautino protestors need to show during the summits.

Although it is unavoidable that violent acts will at some point occur during the protest, students don’t seem to be siding with that type of behavior. According to Terpstra, arrests are an inevitable part of the NATO protest, especially for those who are caught participating in the destructive behavior.

“It’s not like I’m going to cause any trouble,” said Mallory Johnson, 21, an Elementary Education major at Dominican University.  “I’m going to support a cause.  There’s a difference.”

Many student protestors have made efforts against using violence or becoming destructive during the NATO summit. According to Trimm, using violence to protest violence is vicious cycle, with no end.

“The nonviolent power that we have is effective,” Trimm said. 

“There are hundreds of groups all around the city getting together and networking with each other. Find a group that suits your interests and get involved with them.”

Education is key when protesting. It is important to be aware of surroundings, while being conscious of fellow protestors and police. Protestors should also be aware that arrests might occur.

“It’s important to prepare yourself before go,” said Terpstra, the Columbia College Chicago professor. “Get prepared and bring basic tools, just in case—bring ski masks, vinegar and water in case police use tear-gas. And plan out where to march.”

Trimm said she believes in the importance of preparation. Many students involved are first-time protestors or have never been involved in a protest of such magnitude, therefore preparing for what’s to come is imperative. 

“Bad things happen when people are panicking,” Trimm said. “We want to make sure there’s no panic going on and we’re all comfortable in what we’re doing so there can be an impact made.”

Chicago’s security preparations for the NATO summit have begun. Blackhawk helicopters were spotted in downtown in mid-April. The Illinois National Guard announced it would provide support for dignitary motorcades. Chain-link and anti-scaling fences are being purchased by the city to use around McCormick Place during the summits. These are all are part of extra security measures the city is taking.

“It’s extreme over-reaction, but of course, it’s a way of intimidating people from getting out there,” Terpstra said.  “I teach over 200 students each semester and I would say about 40 percent of my students would want to protest and of that, 20 percent will still stay home.”

Said Simonds: “I’ve heard people say ‘I don’t know if I want to go down there for the [NATO summit] because there is going to be a bunch of crazy people’ and others don’t want to go and get attacked by the police. You can’t let that prevent you from participating because this more important than that. The pain passes.”

The risks may prevent some students from participating in the protests, however many interviewed said they are excited about being involved in this historical weekend.

“We want to leave a mark and it’s something we do want to have picked up and carried on in the future, “ said Trimm.

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