Full dress military. American soldiers. Armed with beanbag guns. Come Monday, they will begin patrolling the streets of a designated “Red Zone” that encompasses a large chunk of downtown Chicago.
Wait. “Bean Bag guns?” Did someone really say “Bean Bag Guns?” Soldiers on the streets? The Global NATO Summit doesn’t start for three weeks. It’s being held south of the downtown “Red Zone.” And why do we need a Red Zone? Why aren’t they patrolling McCormick Place, the giant convention hall where the summit will be held? Are we sending soldiers to the wrong place? Wait . . . . . have I heard that part of the story somewhere else?
And by the way. What are all these heads of state going to actually get done, or at least talk about in between the estimated traffic stopping 100 motorcades per day, ceremonial toasts, soldiers with bean bag guns stopping at Starbucks for venti double whipped skinny crème lattes?
At least the plan for putting the protestors on a barge half mile out in the lake was won’t happen.
Lots of angles to this story. All the major media outlets will helicopter in their finest. The media folks with no money will have their “A-List” crews calling in to find that special screaming headline in a twitter sized chunk. While that sturdy band of whack jobs who write for free (no names please) will be piping up in the frozen, distant outskirts of the hullabaloo.
And while substance and silliness swirl throughout all this; the massive, swampy, head cocked dubious hard working soul of the city rises up from those ancient swamps upon which all these really tall buildings loom, casts an eye down on the entirety of this show and sees two threads of truth encompassing a bigger picture of the story.
For the first of the two threads start by looking at who did NOT know about the “red zone” decision. Or at least was not part of the decision. The Mayor’s Office issued a one line response. “This was a security decision and we were not involved.”
No one told the Mayor that there would be soldiers with beanbag guns running around the south loop (downtown) section of the city?
Believe what you choose. Pick your good guys and bad guys. Your liars and saints. Then ask a Chicagoan. Any Chicagoan. “Is this city built at its very core on the neighborhood, on my home turf, my place where I am safe, or at least safer?” And they will answer, “Yes.” The first thread here is the neighborhood. And what happens when somebody from one doesn't talk to somebody from another.
Sometimes the neighborhoods mirror the contemporary civility shown between say Germany and France. Or maybe it’s more like warring tribes in the mountains between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Or something in between. But the common thread, putting all blame or judgment aside and going simply for description, is that sometimes, OK lots of times, people don’t talk to each other here. To such an extent that it helped build a very strong city. When you are on your own---sometimes that prompts self-sufficiency. Sometimes.
Othertimes, as a pivitol figure in Chicago's political history, a figure of unquestioned credibility told me personally, Rahm's people do not let everyone who should be at the table come to the table. And he warned that this could be a prelude to trouble.
In the silos of the neighborhoods is the genesis of the ramrod steel ringed isolation of one group from another. The federal government doesn’t talk to the city government. City government doesn’t talk to people in the streets. The silo mentality grows. Suddenly there are guys with bean bag guns and the Mayor learns about it in the newspaper.
Be assured. There are meetings. The show is there. The façade of encouraging new ideas, new thinking, common goals in the Emanuel Administration is there. But try having a conversation with someone in the inner circle of power. It won’t happen. Not unless you are in that neighborhood too. Or at least one real close by.
The second thread to follow as the story unfolds is that along with being a place of neighborhoods, Chicago is a crossroads. Always has been.
That’s made Chicago very, very good with visitors. In a million different ways. The patrolled “red zone” contains 55,000 federal employees, the buildings they go to work in every day, and a whole lot of visitors. The official statement is that there are “no credible threats” in that populated area at this time.
And if you want to be cynical about that statement, feel free. The unsubstantiated rumor mill says there could be trouble. The large federal presence in the red zone does present a target.
As for the protestors? Those looking for pure and simple free speech? Look for it to happen. The image of Al Capone and tommy guns is fading. But it’s fading slowly. And the 1968 police action at the Democratic convention is still fresh among many. There are systemic problems of violence in the police department that have resulted in massive court settlements against the city. And even more serious allegations of alliances between police and gangs. Serious, life threatening problems. But those are associated problems---they aren’t the same problems as potential police overreaction at NATO.
So as you hear the stories of the NATO show, and you wonder, “Hmm. What’s the other part of the story?”
Look first for that “neighborhood thread.” Who’s not talking to who? Who is not letting someone else inside their circle?
And second, remember the crossroads.
Lot of people have passed though here down through the centuries. A whole lot of people. And they have been welcomed.
Down through the centuries, the visitor to Chicago has stood somewhere close enough to feel the presence of the great inland sea, Lake Michigan. The visitor has smelled a lakeshore breeze as if it were some kind of melody, rising on up to a clear, spring blue sky. Like a song that says, “Ignore the guys with the bean bag guns and the big shots in the motorcades. Real people just like you live here. I’ll bet you even have a relative that’s connected here. This is a crossroads. And you are welcome here.