NATO Summit: Protesters Stress Purpose of March

NATO logoBy Brittany Paris and Dana Morones
The Red Line Project

Posted: Wednesday, May 23 , 2012

Twenty-one-year-old Ryne Poelkers came to Grant Park on Sunday with a group called, “Queers Against NATO.” They helped start a queer contingent called, “Join the Impact” that helped get queer organizations started in Chicago.

Dressed in butterfly wings, glitter, and rainbow colors, the group attended the pre-march rally to show queer solidarity with the cause against the NATO summit.

“We helped to start a queer contingent, to help get queer organizations out here, to protest against NATO because we see that as a direct attack against services that are pre-need like mental health care, shelters [and] youth-specific safe spaces,” Poelkers said. “All of that has been cut with budgets and nothing as far as war goes, or as occupation goes hasn’t received any budget cuts.”

Poelkers was among thousands of protesters who participated in the anti-NATO march May 20 from Grant Park to McCormick Place. People from around the world gathered at the Petrillo Band Shell before the march to organize and line up for the parade through the South Loop.

Each person, whether with a group or alone, said they were there for a reason.

Poelkers, for instance, said he thinks NATO robs people of their wealth, and does not limit this to just the United States.

“They are invading other people’s countries and using that as an occupational force,” he said. “So I really have nothing but feelings of disgust and outrage towards them.

Rylo Laudick and Tony Tyler of Des Moines, Iowa, said they oppose NATO for a different reason. The two drove five hours down Interstate 80 with approximately 45 Catholic protesters.

Many of Chicago’s hotels were packed, making it hard for protesters to find a place to stay. Chicago’s Catholic Worker House accommodated the Des Moines group from Thursday night to Monday morning. Laudick said that he appreciated Chicago’s hospitality.

Laudick said he thought it was obvious why a Catholic organization, called the Des Moines Catholic Worker, would protest NATO.

“NATO is currently responsible for so many deaths in Afghanistan, so many civilian deaths in Afghanistan, I have to ask why wouldn’t I be here,” Laudick said.

The Des Moines Catholic Worker travels to anti-war events across the country. The group joined the Occupy Des Moines movement and occupied a park in the city. They stayed in tents and exercised their rights from October 2011 to January 2012. Although they have both been socially active, Laudick and Tyler said they felt protesting NATO was important.

“NATO, for me, represents the power in the world that is consistently bombing countries they have no business being in," Tyler said. "They are killing children, they are killing people that are defenseless. They are the aggressors of the world. And so it’s really important for me to be here this weekend and protest because it is a chance to speak truth to the power.”

David Thomas, 56, a North Side native, attended the rally with his wife. Although he wasn’t with a group, Thomas said being there was better than sitting at home and watching it on TV. He attended NATO because he wanted to be a part of the numbers and make a difference. Even just a small one.

“I got to stand for something, right? Or you will fall for anything,” Thomas said. “In my opinion, the system is upside down. The things that the system holds important are not in the best interest of the people.”

Thomas held signs and walked in the march to McCormick Place. But he said that one’s feelings on NATO are not as important as bigger issues that affect the entire country.

“The biggest criminals in the country are going scott free. And the whole whether or not one supports NATO is a bigger question,” Thomas said. “But the one that affects all of us is the finances in this country and the fact that the 1 percent pull the reins of power. And not in our best interest at all. And it’s ludicrous.”

Regardless of the different reasons for opposing NATO, protesters seemed to find power and unity in numbers. Protesters joined one another to fight for a cause that demanded world attention.

“Right here, where we are standing, we can see the queer group, you saw the Palestinians, we saw anarchists, you see Black Bloc, we see Filipinos,” Tyler said. “It’s amazing to see that kind of diversity and to say we are united around the cause of peace.”   

Return to NATO Summit Coverage G8/NATO Summits Preview Guide | Home page

Feedback: Contact the reporters via Twitter, leave a comment below and Like/Dislike this story. You also can submit a story idea orreport an error.