MAY 22, 2012 1:31PM

NATO Chicago Summit --- What if?

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He thinks, “ She’s out of my league.” She thinks. Can’t somebody else take on the global war machine? And where they hell is a bathroom?”


They’re each in their own small band of protestors. Marching straight at each other down the middle of State Street in Chicago. Like some kind of show down dual at the social justice corral.


The two groups merge at the corner of Randolph and State. Funneled together by the rolling moveable fences of Chicago cops on bikes. Shouts and fist bumps as the two groups morph into one. Now no one is a stranger. Into the orange streaked sunset they all walk.


Up front of the group, Chicago Superintendent Garry McCarthy marches alongside. A newswoman asks him, “Where is this group going?” McCarthy answers, I don’t think they know where they’re going. But as long as they keep going, we’ll stay with them, making sure they get their right to free speech. And if they do anything criminal, we’ll stop them. It was a mantra he would repeat for the rest of the event. And he’d make good on his word.


As McCarthy spoke, the woman with the silky red blond hair fell in line behind the skinny, intense looking guy from the other group. Sees him first from the back. As if somehow she knew him. Not now, or before. Maybe later? That makes no sense.


Jammed in the back pocket of his jeans, a loud, shiny chartreuse paperback book. Who brings a book to a protest? 


She wonders if she’ll stop doing things like what she’s about to do when she turns 23 next September. Then she does it. She slips the book out of his pocket. He turns, smiles. “Hey!” Not believing. That same woman. “I would have given you the book!” he smiles.


She looks at him. Eyes like surprises. But also like home. “John D. McDonald. Who’s he?”


“Guy who lives on a boat. Fights evil. Kinda like what we’re doing here. His tone missing the cool guy sarcasm he hoped for.


“Mmm” She nods. “Hey. Any clue on finding a bathroom?”


“Sure!"He takes her hand as if they’d known each other forever, and they slip into the doors of what looks like a Bavarian Ski Lodge. Argo Tea Shop.


The security guy nods at the man,  “ Sup Bill?”


“Hey Simon!”


“OK I am almost impressed.”  She snickers. “What are you, like Rahm Emanuel’s son or something?”


“No, he’s 12. I just like to act like I’m 12 sometimes.”


“Why did I know that?” she nods.


As he waited for her to come upstairs from the bathroom, he bought two giant red pomegranate ice teas. “Here,” he said, “We’ll need these. By the way, what’s your name?”


“I’m Clarrisa.” She puts her hand on her chest. A voice like warm honey. “I’m from Charlottesville.”


“Bill. From here.”


Then back out into the marching night. As the orange streaked sky gave way to the city street light glow, night, they just kept walking.

Holding hands as if it had always been that way.



The protest went on deep into the night. Way past 8 hours after the last official rally ended. The rhythm of the rolling Chicago Police escorts bending and turning as groups from all over the country would walk, meet up with each other and merge, split off, wander around and meet again As if some golden thread of purpose was being woven together. This was the night to make connections. Going way past any permit times, way into the night, the police allowing some long buried collective cry come out of the constantly changing groups, handing over these streets, for assembly, for free speech.


The setting for this weaving thread was the Chicago Loop, a 1.58 square mile of real estate at the center of the business district, called “Loop” because of the elevated trains that circle above, is also one of the largest college campuses in the country. 65,000 students go to school here. Many students live here. Since 2000, the population has increased by 78%.


East of the Loop, bordering the towering Chicago skyline is the giant Lake Michigan, a natural wonder that sometimes seems to always keep fresh the soul of the city. As the protest finally wound down, Clarissa and Bill wandered over to the shoreline as splinter groups of protestors headed off for Greek Town revelry to the west or an empty space of floor somewhere north.


Clarissa wide eyed at the water, “Pfft! You call this impressive? Ever heard of a little place they call ‘The Atlantic?’ Still holding hands, they wandered north up to a condo on Goethe Street that Bill’s uncle, in New York on a book tour, had let him use.


Sleep came deep. Eventually.


And they were up, showered and fed in time for Sunday’s demonstration.


That demonstration, what they saw happen, took them both into a silence that neither of them, at 23, had ever known.


The event had ended. They were walking west on Cermak Road. The police order to disperse has clear, loud and scared neither of them. Both of them still stunned by what they had just seen. Being told by the cops “Walk west” was almost a comfort.


But that police order was also a signal. Clarissa saw the three girls pulling on the black sweatshirts and masks in the now 90-degree heat. She saw a group of about 20, close enough to see the crazy in their eyes, she saw them start urging the dispersing crowd to walk east toward McCormick Place. Into police lines.


Bill didn’t see it. But he sensed it. Trouble. He took Clarissa’s hand and started walking fast towards a restaurant just a little bit west. Jimmy’s Place. An old friend of his Uncle’s.  Jimmy saw Bill and the woman, opened his front door, motioned them in. “Up on the roof. I got WGN TV cameras up there."


Pounding up the stairs to the sun splashed gravel roof, Bill and Clarissa were able to look down on what would be called the one really tense confrontation of the entire summit.


This was a chance almost never seen in any media anywhere. They saw the full context of the confrontation from beginning to end. Not clips cut to prove a point. But full streaming video, standing next to the WGN camera filming the whole event. Watching first the 4 or 5 black clad demonstrators form a point to push into police lines. From the back of the crowd, sticks and water bottles and light bulbs and bottles of urine being tossed into police lines.


They saw Superintendent McCarthy, easy to recognize because he had no protective gear, at the back of his lines, barking out orders, picking up fallen cops, gradually pushing the line of demonstrators west where most all of them had gone anyway. McCarthy making history by erasing the city’s shame at the 1968 police riots and replacing it with pride. Pure pride. The hard core tiny group of demonstrators beating back at police shields and billy clubs.


The 3 times they saw a cop, being spit on, taunted and abused,  go over the edge and start to throw a punch or a billy club, the cop who literally had his back, would tap him on the shoulder, and would shout “Remember your training!” Hearing that phrase, the two cops would trade places. So the front line of cops was always changing. But the number of demonstrators kept getting smaller.  The small number, who came only to fight, in full view of the TV cameras recording from that roof, peeled off by cops and sent back through the lines to be arrested. The others, the real protestors, the Occupy leaders, long since gone and dispersed.


Ringing the scene were mounted cops, acres of state police in full riot gear.


With the massive show of law enforcement force, most of it just standing at ready, and the rotating front lines, and the brutal hard and violent work of fighting in the 90 degree sun; it took about an hour for the crowd to disperse.  And it wasn’t till the crowd had gone, that Bill and Clarrisa, eating pizza with Jimmy at a dark, cool corner table, could talk about what was really the true beating heart meaning of this day.


It wasn’t the absurdity of those who came here to do violence as protest against the NATO violence machine. It wasn’t the tea party or evangelical like certainty bleated out by the faint cries of protest leaders claiming that cops caused the violence. Every time Jimmy heard that he’d say, “Watch the fucking game tape moron! The whole story is on video!”


It wasn’t whatever happened around the NATO meeting table. “Anybody know if they figured out how to fight the wars cheaper?” Ernie the cook yelled from the kitchen.


For Bill and Clarissa, as much as they were tied together at the heart, it wasn’t even about them. Likely they’d both be off to other stories when her plane headed south. At least for now.


The real meaning of this thing? The lesson?


It was those veterans. Those heroes.  That earlier demonstration that had taken their breath away.


Those vets,  who tasted Iraqi sand in their teeth and searched for IED’s under achingly blue Afghani skies. Those who really fought. Really did the work. No matter what the abstraction of politics or reason or any of the talk, talk talk.


These vets stood there. Right in front of Bill and Clarissa. And then these brave and noble souls tossed away their medals. The hurled them off into the Chicago sky. They threw away their medals!




There were easy answers.  Cheap answers.


But what if there was more than judgments of heroes or cheap answers or blaming the bosses?


What if heroes throwing away medals was a sign that there was something terribly wrong in the ways we all do our best to protect our planet?


And what could make it right?


Could it be that golden thread born of that collective wail of a crowd coming together?


What if the cry of that golden thread that fell across Chicago like a cleansing spring rain was some sort of sign? Something that was saying, “People get ready. There is a train a coming. Something new is coming”


What if it was a time for a deep, lasting change in the way we protect the planet?


What if we figure it out together, this time?


“What if?” said Bill


And Clarissa, who always liked to have the last word, reached over to take his hand, smiled and asked,

“What if?”


Author tags:

broken news, chicago nato

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Tough no nonsense tale told in the brisk, gritty style of a veteran political reporter ala Jimmy Breslin or Pete Hamill. R
Poetic journey, mon frere.

"remember your training..."
Reminds me of Gandhi's "troops" a little.....
And yes, we DO require to learn how to protect our planet better, of course, but at what cost to the common consumer will this have to be paid?
Magnificent work you're doing, so inspiring.
Thank you.
Excellent post reminds me so much of the days when a young John Kerry led the Vietnam Vets Against the War, too bad he screwed up when he ran against the Baby Bush. "What if?" Might have been a different world, "What if?"
What if we could all remember that the "men and women in blue" are members of the 99% just as we are?

I find the evolution of law enforcement tactics just as inspiring as the Occupy movement itself and Chicago PD are to be commended; from the newest of the recruits who held themselves above the attempts by those with their own agenda of violence to taunt them to Superintendent McCarthy who provided the level-headed leadership necessary to make this; it’s not us against them, rather us working together with them to secure a better world peacefully.

I saw it in Las Vegas and you saw it in Chicago. Just maybe; change is indeed in the air.
You took a sad situation and turned it into a Love Story. Man, that is some kind of writing!
Gerald--Wow. Those guys are heroes. I grew up on Hamill. Thanks!

PW-- I heard that phrase through the whole 4 days. Both first hand and through the sound on this remarkable coverage from the roof of the one event. The taunting of the cops by these small groups was relentless. Reporting of the whole story, in context, was remarkably good. For example, and this was something I saw near the Sears Tower Saturday night, "a cop vehicle mowing through a crowd" became in context, "An officer got punched through the glass of his vehicle, his tires were slashed, and he managed to keep control of the vehicle except for the one guy who tried to physically stop the vehicle with this body," . . .became the full story.

There was a very clear distinction between the 99% who were there to speak out in protest and the 1% who were there to raise hell.

But as we all know---1% can do damage.

jmac---Yep. That is a very true connection.

Bob---When I get the inevitable backlash to this; my response is going to be---READ WHAT BOB SAID! Because those of us in the 99% really know its true.

Many thanks for following this series through to completion. I knew this piece wouldn't draw many views. And it took awhile to get everything in and whittled down and make it a story. Probably should have been doing other stuff.

But this was a labor of love.

And I am so grateful to anybody who followed this series from beginning to end.
Scanner---That was the goal. Thanks for seeing that!
Most excellent, CG. Quite the contrast with the G20 in Toronto and, of course, '68. It is heartening to hear that the new police tactics worked so well.

Reminds me that Tommy Douglas, the man voted "The Greatest Canadian" in a poll, was galvanised as a teenager by watching the horror that brought about the end of the Winnipeg General Strike in 1919.

He and a friend were atop a building nearby when Royal North-West Mounted Police and goons called "specials" (the entire city police force had been fired for supporting the strike) armed with clubs killed at least one demonstrator and injured many others. Countless people were arrested.

Douglas became a clergyman, a member of Parliament, Saskatchewan's premier (at the head of the first socialist government elected in North America) and founding leader of the New Democratic Party.

He known for many achievements, but most of all as the father of our national healthcare system.
B--A Tommy Douglas kind of change. Exactly. I hope anyone who happens by here reads your comment. Because THAT is the kind of story the world needs. Thanks for that.
Good read. Felt like I was trudging along with you. A little romance flavors the pot nicely.
What if we could all remember that the "men and women in blue" are members of the 99% just as we are?

I wish that a LOT more people would remember it, and that those are real people in those uniforms. I'm grateful that the tactics worked to quell the eruptions of violence - for everyone's sake.
beauty---Sincere thanks for staying with this little journey!

bike--As a CPD spouse, you commenting is an honor. Hope you guys enjoy that well deserved White Sox game!
Travis McGee and Spencer- cops disgusted with being the Elite's heavies, taking on justice for the common man. I hope what you are seeing is the true evolution of "Law Enforcement Professionals' ( LEPers) back into "Peace Officers"- In the sticks we are still seeing far too many blue clad ex marine lance corporals ( and I mean no disrespect to Marines- but think about it, who musters out at lance corporal to pursue a career in Law Enforcement ?)
What if they gave a war and nobody came? What if people just stopped paying protection money to the crooks who run the health insurance racket? What if everybody took their money out of too big to fail banks? What if people stopped watching Fux News and Reality TV? What if people refused to vote for politicians without a brain or a heart? What if bribes -- I mean campaign contributions -- were made illegal? What if people really meant it when they said "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it any more!"
Herr R--Yes, Spencer is up there too. That evolution is what it looks like. And of course we know evolution is no speed boat. But it sure inched along in the right direction this past week.

TC---Who let Peter Finch in here???
Top of your game here, Rog. This is powerful, poetic and, let us hope, prophetic. Clarissa from Charlottesville, btw, reddish blonde hair? Jefferson blood?
CM--I never would have predicted that one of the main stories here would be the outstanding work of the CPD. McCarthy said last night that the officer stabbed in the leg was up working and fine. An elderly woman fainting in the heat, cop catches her and brings water. McCarthy's crystal clear distinction between protestors and criminals. Imagine if THAT idea had been in play in 68!

And Clarissa as a Jefferson descendent? Could be. I hear there are a lot of those. And if I ever hear from her again, I'll ask.
CG, maybe I should write something about Tommy Douglas. He was an incredible man, one who lived without fear or favour. He and Walter Reuther (whom I also admire greatly) would have had a lot to say to each other. Never met Douglas, sadly for me, but he left an indelible mark on this country. It's no mistake that he was named "The Greatest Canadian", surpassing even Pierre Trudeau.

What's your opinion on the Quebec demonstrations, by the way.

Oh, and before I forget again ... red-gold (RG2) hair is the best. I can speak with authority on that subject.
B--Here's a thought. I wonder if his very well known grandson would be interested in investing in a book on his grandfather done by an accomplished pro? As I've heard elsewhere "Never write for free. . . ."
And your idea is really good.

The Quebec demonstrations appear from this distance to call for the same kind of broad viewpoint I tried to show here. That caution that anybody who starts by branding good guys on one side and bad guys on the other doesn't really see the full story. For openers, black block tactics mean that there at LEAST THREE sides to the story.

The biggest story in Chicago really was "no story." All the things that didn't happen. And the length of the Quebec demonstrations SUGGESTS that there is WAY too much happening there.

The policing strategy in Chicago was to literally collect best practices from EVERYWHERE. A high ranking woman on the force was assigned solely to develop strategy. And did she ever do a good job.
Being up on that roof---like Tommy---I could see her strategy in action. Black block formed a wedge to attack the police lines, the cops saw it coming, they shifted and surrounded. There is also a huge piece of the non-violence playbook being used by the cops. It's seen in the rolling fence bike patrols I had in this piece. Now behind that are the really scary looking riot police. But they are only brought out as back up.

Point? Strategy works.

As for the RG2---That is good to hear--cause I am not an authority.
So far.
Chicago, another terrific piece of writing. Artistry. I learned about Chicago and about writing from this series of yours.

I'm impressed by way you're increasingly weaving the personal with reporting, sort of like the cops trading places when it gets too heavy up front.

I'm watching, and hopefully learning, from you.
Thanks Pandora! I think the personal/story elements help in toning down the shrill, idealogical elements that its easy to do when one is reporting this kind of story. When the intent is to say, "here are the good guys, and here are the bad guys" then the story is simply not being told, is one sided or flat out dull.

Some of the scenes I saw first hand:

1. The hand signals by the black box crowd signaling an attack on police lines. On Sunday.

2. The officer punched in the head, while driving loosing control of his car as his tires were slashed. He later suffered a concussion.Friday. And this guy was an evidence technician. He just wandered by mistake into a crowd,

3. The blistering taunts of the cops in front of the Mayors house.

4. The fake blood pulled from the crowd to make it look like kids were beaten.

5. The broken bottle that held the urine tossed at a line of cops.

I also spoke on the phone to the cop who was stabbed. He is doing fine. I asked him if he was a double agent for somebody, anybody. He laughed and said, "F you Roger, I'm going to a White Sox game so get off my phone." So I'm guessing that meant no.

But ALL of that is in a much larger context. My truth, your truth, the black box truth and simply trying to impress Clarissa, who probably never even read the thing.

Bottom line--the two big picture outcomes of this?

1. Everything that didn't happen. No property damage or serious

2. A real sea change in the overall population's perception of the cops. That TINY minority who came to taunt or commit crime---were out played by a strategy designed by a high ranking woman in the Chicago Police Department, led and carried out pretty close to flawlessly.

All within the context of a story.