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Big Shoulders in Chicago and Kabul

Kabul

NATO/G8 meetings are scheduled to take place from May 19-21 next year in Chicago.  Plans are ramping up everywhere. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen exulted over bringing NATO and the G8 to Chicago, and Clinton promised to call Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel and convey Rasmussen’s glowing opinion that Chicago, built upon diversity and determination, shares values that underpin NATO. Activists on the ground, envisioning a different kind of Chicago, and bracing themselves for the crushing, militarized police response that in recent years has consistently met protesters at these events, can only hope that this is not the case.

NATO leaders continue to prepare for conflict further and further from the North Atlantic shores.  Chicagoan Rick Rozoff, who organizes the Stop NATO newslist, notes that in December 2011, Romania’s Senate ratified an agreement with the U.S. to station 24 Standard Missile-3 interceptors in Romania, located immediately across the Black Sea from Russia. A comparable deployment is planned for Poland, supplementing the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles already present there. A missile defense radar facility will be placed in Turkey. And there is talk of converting dozens if not scores of warships to Lockheed Martin’s Aegis Combat System, equipping each ship with radar and missiles systems to project American power in what NATO has called the “European Phased Adaptive Approach.”. NATO is forging ahead on all fronts, although civilian leaders in Europe, in light of the region’s growing economic crisis, could much better afford a retirement party for NATO than the programs to be ratified at the weapon-fest planned for Chicago.

Hillary Clinton, President Obama, former war-hawk senator Emanuel and other undisputed militarists in government seem to see Chicago as a city obsessed with power, a city determined above all to be tough and strong. Carl Sandburg
famously depicted Chicago as the city of big shoulders, and it often seems too easy for political leaders and generals to confuse the strength involved in shouldering shared burdens with the very different kind of “toughness” that drives a fist or a nightstick.  Sandberg perhaps made this distinction clear in a very different poem:

BUTTONS

I HAVE been watching the war map slammed up for
advertising in front of the newspaper office.

Buttons–red and yellow buttons–blue and black buttons–
are shoved back and forth across the map. A laughing young man, sunny with freckles,
Climbs a ladder, yells a joke to somebody in the crowd,
And then fixes a yellow button one inch west
And follows the yellow button with a black button one
inch west.

(Ten thousand men and boys twist on their bodies in
a red soak along a river edge,
Gasping of wounds, calling for water, some rattling
death in their throats.)

Who would guess what it cost to move two buttons one
inch on the war map here in front of the newspaper
office where the freckle-faced young man is laughing
to us?
–Carl Sandburg

The NATO leaders who will be pushing the expensive buttons being purchased now, deploying weapons all over the world, won’t see the cost.  They won’t see what it cost families in the Zhare district of Afghanistan’s Kandahar province on November 23 when a NATO plane mistook six of their children, who will forever now be aged from four to twelve years old, for insurgents. Abdul Samad, an uncle of four of the children, said his relatives were working in fields near their village when the aircraft attacked without warning.

I’m writing now from Kabul, Afghanistan.  Ken Hannaford-Ricardi and Farah Mokhtareizadeh are here with me and we’ve just been joined by our friend Maya Evans from Voices in the Wilderness UK.  We feel grateful to continue building relationships with the dedicated young activists of Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, who are moving toward forming delegations themselves by traveling to other provinces in Afghanistan to meet with youth groups bearing up under the heavy burdens of military occupation.  They want to bring peace out of imperial chaos.  Recently, they studied film footage about Truth and Reconciliation commissions in South Africa and segments of “A Force More Powerful,” documentary film footage about nonviolent efforts in Gandhi’s India and in U.S. cities where the civil rights movement struggled to end segregation.  These youth exemplify real determination and diversity, of the sort Chicago is praised for, with an earnest desire to deepen both qualities in the service of peace.  Every day they bear the burdens that will come a little closer to Chicago in May when the weight of an increasingly militarized domestic government comes down on anyone attempting to protest global fiscal austerity and the global military regime it pays for.

Yesterday, they welcomed a new friend who lives in a neighboring province and speaks a different language to join them and help them learn his language.  Asked about NATO/ISAF night raids and other attacks that have occurred in his area, he said that families that have been attacked feel intense anger, but even more so people say they want peace.  “However, international forces have made people feel less secure,” he added, “It’s unfortunate that internationals hear stories about Afghans being wild people and think that more civilized outsiders are trying to build the country.  People here are suffering because of destruction caused by outsiders.”

My three companions and I, (three of us are from the U.S. and one from the UK), feel deeply moved as we witness these young people building up their big shoulders to bear heavy burdens.  We felt similar appreciation and gratitude when witnessing the efforts of the Occupy movement which, in just three months. has reaffirmed international capacity for shouldering shared burdens, living simply and choosing inventive community over rigid systems of dominance.

Hillary Clinton doesn’t seem to understand these things, but she told General Rasmussen that she hopes many people will come to Chicago for the NATO G8 summits, and so do I. I’m looking forward to people from Occupy Everywhere coming to Chicago.

Many friends in Chicago are getting ready to meet the concerted state apparatus, so determined to run smoothly in its blind mechanical course, with simple human power. It’s going to involve tremendous work, but this is what life means everywhere now.  The City of Big Shoulders earned its name before the  period of modern U.S. Empire, the decades of artificial prosperity secured from above and fueled from abroad, which this upcoming summit will attempt to manage in its decline. I think that underneath the hype, underneath the intoxicating flow of wealth seized from abroad, the plastic, mechanized, isolated comforts of the boom, Chicago well understands the real meaning of strength and determination.  We’ll need to remember a force more powerful than violence in the time that’s coming, a strength that doesn’t turn us against our neighbors and isn’t handed down by the powerful, a courage that I see in the faces of the youth here in Kabul, confidently advertising it as its own reward.

Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org). She is the author of Other Lands Have Dreams and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press. She is in Kabul with a delegation of Voices activists till January 5th.  They are guests of the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers (journeytosmile.com)

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KATHY KELLY co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence and has worked closely with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers. She is the author of Other Lands Have Dreams published by CounterPunch / AK Press. She can be reached at: Kathy@vcnv.org 

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