APRIL 27, 2012 2:41PM

Chicago Welcomes NATO?

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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.

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First off, your writing style in this piece is fantastic. Just had to say that.
Secondly, this police state shit has got to stop. I don't care how many 'threats' exist, it's becoming all too familiar.
We're not Israel for Bast's sake!
I find it offensive and insane that we all just stand by and act as if this crap is normal or reasonable.
It's terrible, sad and sick.
tactical nuclear weapons are the issue
Keep 'em scared and feed 'em BS, so you can get the votes... wasn't that the way old man Daley ran things? Sounds like Chicago politics of old to me.
Well, at least the bars and prostitutes will benefit
Will they bring out Medium Cool for a special showing in all the theaters?
Doug and Don---It's a big challenge, as the range of your comments shows.

Jmac--Three are similarities and differences between now and back then. One is that the federal government is calling the shots here. Two is that the Chicago "machine" is very different. It is not a political animal anymore. Third, that the PR campaign done by the city is to NOT scare people. So when the feds decided there would be soldiers with guns, it was an issue because it ran counter to what the city was doing.

Like I said---the issue is that the circles of power ain't talking to each other, In Daley Sr. times----NO ONE ignored him.

Tom--Sorry, I can't bring my sources into this. . .but I can say "Hell yeah!"

Matt--Every night! I'll be there selling popcorn.
Sometimes I am glad to be living far away in the middle of nowhere, this is one of those times. It's getting very scary out there...
I'm reading the biography "Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America," and I'm just blown away by all that I did not know about Chicago and its rich history. I did not know it was Ground Zero for the American anarchist movement in the 1880s, and that so many epic protests had happened there, including the Haymarket Affair in 1886. Fascinating stuff. Keep us posted!
You just got to show some love to the soldiers/policemen sporting those nonlethal weapons and no one will get hurt.

How much more of this drip drip drip of steady growing state of perpetual security to save us from those terrorists are we going to discuss from our computer screens and see the new normal morph before our every eyes Roger??
LL---Good point.

Frank--I got the bail money ready for you. Am expecting to use it!

Deborah--The history is SO much a part of this. Haymarket is an excellent example.

Suzy---Beats me.
Agree with Lunchlady about scary out there...and must tell you this is very very well written!!!
My neighborhood is small town rural Ohio (Oxymoron - the only places in Ohio that aren't "Rural" are Cleveland and Downtown Cincinnati)

I've been to Chicago enough times to know that it is (Like Cajun Louisiana and New Orleans) a wonderful place to visit, but not a place I could live.

There, it seems to me, too many people fear ( perhaps Rightly) that their neighbors might be armed and dangerous. Hence the "consent" to LEPers ( Law Enforcement Professionals- as opposed to Peace officers- Think Barney Fife with an M-4 ( M-16 carbine ) and multiple 30 round banana clips- vs Andy Taylor) overrunning the city in the name of "Security"

In my neighborhood, I feel nervous about the people who aren't knowledgeably armed and familiar with how to use those arms. It's how and why we don't need and won't tolerate an invasion by an army of occupation, even if it is nominally "ours".

Chacon a son gout
I used to speak Chicago fluently but don't get there as much anymore. Nice to know you are minding the store. R
JD-- Lunch Lady is ALWAYS worth listening to!

Herr R--Thanks for commenting and welcome.
First--you forgot about Columbus, no? But your larger point is interesting and well taken. Perhaps because any time Andy and Barney are used to illustrate anything, I enjoy the dialogue. Talk to me about Ernest T. Bass and I'd agree to just about anything!

What interests me is positing fear, and a way of dealing with fear, as a way to compare our two neighborhoods. Above all, that's the kind of thinking the benefits all.

NATO is not everyday life. (As I'm sure you know) And security wasn't handed over. No one outside the federal government had a say in that. I think your point has more to do with everyday life. So to answer that, the vast majority of the 50,000 Chicago police force is a lot closer to Andy than Barney. And the fact that they are trained professionals lessens my fear! Contrast that with your neck of the woods---if everyone was armed, with no standards or training, that would scare the crap out of me. I know there are neighborhoods in Chicago where everyone (bad guys and good guys) ARE armed.

I don't go there. I honestly don't get how more guns makes us safer. Political rhetoric aside, sportsmanship aside (because I used to hunt)
I don't get how giving the guy down the street a gun (the guy is a drunk psycho who scares me anyway!) I don't get how giving him a gun makes me safer?

But like you say--(translated!) "To each his own!"
I appreciate your comment. Thinking people are welcome here!
Nilesite--Minding the store is EXACTLY how I view this. Many thanks to you!
Chicago Guy

Lived in Columbus for 30 years- biggest small town in Ohio. The point about fear is well made. We don't fear our neighbors so much as we fear invasion by "Black Helicopters" (and the UN.)
Herr R--I gotta get over my compulsion to reply in German!

Algis---Exactly. So each time you read a story about this---look for what's left out. I guarantee it will be SOMETHING! Which is what makes this interesting.