Revolutionary Worker #1175, November 17, 2002, posted at http://rwor.org
"I feel I have a moral obligation to protest. I can't sit down and watch TV and let this kind of stuff happen all over the world. I mean these people are controlling the lives of thousands of people in other countries."
--High school student from Chicago suburbs
Chicago, November 7 --As hundreds rallied and marched against corporate greed and exploitation, Chicago's city government put its downtown "Loop" business and shopping area under lock and key. Police choppers hovered above the crowd, while police boats patrolled the Chicago River that runs through the "Loop." 1,200 or more Chicago police were deployed along the march route--decked out in all-black riot gear of shin guards, vests, helmets, shields and clubs like the Empire's stormtroopers from a Star Wars movie. Each intersection along the protest was sealed off with buses, police cars, patrol wagons and additional riot squads of Illinois State Troopers and Cook County Sheriff's police. The entire march was surrounded and contained by a moving line of police on foot and horseback. The police presence was so intense that even the mainstream media used words like "armed camp" and "police state" to describe the scene.
The purpose of this massive show of force was to control protests called in response to a corporate meeting being held in Chicago entitled the Trans-Atlantic Business Dialogue--or as some protesters called it, the "Trans-Atlantic Bloodsuckers Monologue." Held behind closed doors, barred to corporate and capitalist critics, and with limited press coverage allowed, the TABD brought together CEO's of major U.S. and European Union corporations and high-level government officials for purposes of devising strategies, regulations and policies that would knock down, in their words, "barriers to trade." As Sarita Gupta, a march organizer from Chicago Jobs with Justice, pointed out, those "barriers" include "labor standards, environmental standards, consumer rights protections...in other words anything that blocks corporations' paths to unlimited profit." Especially onerous was the fact that the conference co-chairs were Phil Condit of Boeing and Charles Masefeld of BAE Systems (UK)--companies who rank among this planet's leading makers of weapons of destruction, mass or otherwise.
In response to this conference, a coalition of organizations--ranging from Direct Action Network to Chicago Jobs with Justice--put out a call to "disinvite" the TABD to Chicago in the spirit of those who protested prior meetings of the TABD, the WTO and other meetings of global corporate power. The response from the city and police officials, as well as the local press, was one of unrestrained fear- mongering. Any real mention of the issues behind the protest were buried under dire warnings of possible "violent" protest, with corresponding footage of police/protester confrontations from Seattle and Washington, DC. "Thousands of anarchists are expected to descend on the city" read one headline. Will the police be ready for the demonstrators--became the sole question for the public to ponder.
The city announced downtown parking restrictions covering an area two miles long and nearly a mile wide. Two rows of metal barriers were installed in a downtown plaza while garbage cans and newspaper boxes were removed from city streets. The area around the Sheraton Hotel, site of the TABD meeting, was sealed off by a small army of police--who searched cars and demanded ID's and explanations from anyone who needed to pass through the area. The evening news informed viewers that 300 Chicago police had worked with DC police during the anti-WTO protests last September, while showing footage of Chicago police officers applying that experience in dress rehearsals for the TABD protest with other Chicago police officers acting as unruly "protesters." The police department touted the formation of their "Special Response Teams"--composed of police officers 6'4" and taller who could easily wade into a crowd and collar "violent demonstrators." Under loosened rules regulating police spying, plainclothes officers were sent into the march, along with extensive photographing and videotaping of all protesters for police files. Extra police were posted at various rapid transit stations. One woman told the RW how a group of police stationed outside a rapid transit "L" station stopped, questioned and searched people before they were allowed to enter the train station. And for good measure, the corporation council threatened to charge protesters for any damage to city property. The corporation council however did not extend their concerns over violence to penalize police for any physical damage to protesters.
In spite of the city's heavy intimidation, hundreds and hundreds of people--with crowds ranging from 1,200 to 2,200 over the course of the evening's protest--bravely showed up to voice their opposition to the TABD. While the media criticized protesters for having a grab-bag message, the various perspectives and issues demonstrators brought to light gave concrete meaning and bite to the charges leveled against the major capitalist players. Rene Maxwell, an African-American housing activist who lives in the Cabrini Green projects, contrasted the tens of thousands of people waiting on lists for a diminishing supply of public and subsidized housing with the tens of millions of dollars in subsidies the city spent to lure Boeing to its new Chicago corporate headquarters. A journalist who had worked in Russia for five years told how he had witnessed the destruction of the Russian economy at the hands of the World Bank. Among the train of corporate outrages listed by an aspiring lawyer were the actions of Shell Oil--which writes oil policy in Nigeria and hires thugs to kill civilians who get in their way of earning money.
Julio Lara, a union official with a Teamsters local, voiced his anger over the planned relocation to Mexico of the candy factory in which he himself worked for ten years. A group of white high school students from suburban LaGrange came because they felt the NABT and WTO corporations are stripping away workers' rights. A professor took his class of 15 to get a real education by seeing firsthand the government's treatment of protest.
Along with justifiable anger was some well-aimed humor: a pair of giant big-headed puppets in suits, labeled "Enron" and "WorldCom"; a young man passing out plastic wrapped vampire fangs from a box marked "Instant CEO Costume"; a group of women dancers doing street theatre and chants, the logo "2 cute 2B arrested" sewn on the backs of their pink outfits.
By the end of Thursday's protest, and a smaller one on Friday, the city announced a return to "normal." But the city's actions gave many people a strong dose of a police state--where a massive show of force is used to protect a small group devoted to profiting at the expense of most of humanity--by intimidating, threatening and attempting to shut down those speaking out for justice.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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