Won’t You Still Please Come to Chicago?

Vetoed by the recent White House announcement that the 2012 G8 meetings had been moved to Camp David, the original and provocative idea of combining the G8 and the NATO summits in Chicago this May belonged to the city’s authoritarian, militaristic, and left-loathing corporate-Democratic Mayor Rahm Emmanunel. “After it was determined in December 2010 that the United States would be the host of the G-8 and NATO summit meetings,” the New York Times reported two weeks ago, “the Obama administration announced within months that Chicago would be the site [for both]…The idea was less Mr. Obama’s than the brainchild of Rahm Emanuel, then the White House chief of staff….” (J. Calmes, “Camp David, Not Chicago, to Host G-8,” NYT, March 5, 2012).

Rahmbo’s Provocation

Emmanuel’s idea was provocative on numerous levels. Global capitalist policy summits became sites for significant “anti-globalization” (global justice and sustainability) protests in and around big core-state cities during the late 1990s. In the summer of 2001, the G8 meetings in Genoa, Italy attracted large demonstrations, provoking ugly repression that included the killing of at least one protestor. Following those events and the 9/11 attacks two months later, the G8 made a point of meeting in more remote, non-urban locations like Sea Island, Georgia (U.S.A., 2004); Gleneagles, Scotland (UK, 2005); Toyaku (Lake Toya), Hokkaido (Japan, 2008); and Deauville, Basse-Normandie (France, 2011).

Did G8 planners really want to return to a protest-accessible big city environment during a period of elite-imposed state-capitalist austerity and in the wake of the outbreak of the greatest wave of urban protest to emerge in the rich nations in many decades?  Chicago is home to a rich protest legacy that stretches from the Civil War through the present.  The record includes the historic left-led Eight Hour Movement and Haymarket tragedy and executions of 1886-1887 (these gave birth to the international workers’ day May 1st);  numerous epic 20th century unionization campaigns across an array of giant industries (including meatpacking, steel, and farm equipment); the Martin Luther King-led 1966 Chicago Freedom Movement (the first attempt to bring the full power of the Civil Rights Movement to a northern metropolis); the 1968 Democratic Convention (when tens of thousands of anti Vietnam War protestors famously encountered a rolling, proto-fascistic police riot ordered by the city’s Mayor Richard J. Daley); two mass marches against George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in March 2003; a gigantic immigrant rights march on May Day 2006; a significant grassroots movement (in 2004 and 2005) against Wal-Mart’s effort to penetrated Chicago through the city’s black ghettoes; the remarkable 9-day occupation of Chicago’s North Side Republic Door and Window plant by largely immigrant workers with a left-led union in December of 2008; a significant grassroots movement (2009) against the city elite’s attempt to get the 2016 Olympics; ongoing popular resistance to the city’s corporate schools agenda (including efforts to surround and occupy City Hall); and the emergence of Occupy Chicago last fall.

Emmanuel further sweetened the G8 protest target by combining it with another – the annual meetings of the rich states’ U.S.-led military alliance, the North American Treaty Organization (NATO). Consistent with the former Soviet Union’s description of it as an aggressive, U.S.-led imperialist institution, the “defensive” NATO coalition has in the post-Cold War era repeatedly waged murderous out-of-area wars in Serbia, South Asia, and the Middle East.  It is designed to “contain” Russia and China.   The deadly American-led invasion that has produced a “steady diet of atrocities” (Alexander Cockburn) in Afghanistan (an operation as criminal as the occupation of Iraq from the start) is a NATO war, as was the mass-bombing of Libya last year.

Emmanuel’s bid to combine the G8 and NATO’s seemed almost calculated to help the Left overcome differences between its economic and global justice wing on one hand and its anti-imperialist and antiwar wing on the other.  It promised to unite those angry at Obama because of his service to the unelected dictatorship of money with those angry at Obama because of his intimately related service to the permanent war party.  It suggested the basic left point that corporate-financial globalization and American militarism are two wings of the same world-capitalist bird of prey.

Other City Protest Targets

Making the city’s planned twin “Global Crossroads” gatherings yet more problematic for local and national elites including Obama, the president’s “home city” (Chicago) is full of strong protests sites beyond summit headquarters.  Potential targets include Emmanuel’s City Hall (a bastion of corporatist metropolitan union-busting, clinic-closing, prison-stocking, school- and social service-privatizing); the hyper-affluent near-North Side Gold Coast, whose multimillion-dollar mansions and condominium apartments and posh restaurants and art studios stand in sickening proximity to 15 city neighborhoods where more than a quarter of the children live at less than half the notoriously inadequate U.S. poverty level; the University of Chicago Economics Department (a leading player in the infection of the world with the inequality- and poverty-spreading disease of neoliberalism); the downtown headquarters of the Boeing Corporation, maker of the Predator Drone, the B2 Stealth Bomber, and the Blackhawk Helicopter, to name just three deadly Boeing technologies the Pentagon has purchased (at massive cost-plus taxpayer expense) to murder tens of thousands of innocent civilians, including countless  small children, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen.

An especially juicy Chicago protest target is top corporate Democrat Obama’s 2012 downtown re-election campaign headquarters (located in the Prudential Building at 130 E. Randolph St.). Obama’s center of operations “looks more like a company than a campaign. For the last year,” the New York Times reported two weeks ago, “an office that appears nearly as long and as wide as a football field has steadily grown, with more than 300 workers now sitting bunched together….a payroll of $3 million in January suggests the staff is larger than any ever assembled for a presidential race.”  The Times adds that the 300 workers are having a hard time raising money from the “small donors who gave early and often in 2008.” This is because “Some of the volunteers who went to work enlisting friends and neighbors [in 2008] have been turned off by unmet expectations” and because “they have literally lost track of many reliable Democratic voters, particularly lower-income people who have lost their homes or their jobs or both, and can no longer be reached at the addresses or phone numbers the campaign has on file” (J. Rutenberg and J. Zeleny, NYT, March 8, 2012, A1).

The corporate-like Obama headquarters is a fitting protest object thanks to the administration’s relentless service to the rich and powerful. That service stands in bold defiance of the hopes for progressive and democratic change that many Americans felt when President Elect Obama gave his victory speech before a million Chicagoans gathered in and around the city’s downtown Grant Park (where antiwar protestors faced tear gas and police batons in 1968). Many who came to hear the charismatic president-in-waiting in person that night are now among those “who have lost their homes or their jobs or both, and can no longer be reached at the addresses or phone numbers the campaign has on file.” They were used and forgotten by a president who has already attended 191 elite fundraisers – a new first-term record with 10 months still to go (F. Schouten, ”Obama Tops Recent Presidents in Fundraising Attendance,” USA Today, March 6, 2012, A1). Having been offered little more than the fading psychological wage of having helped elect the first black president in the land of slavery, they would do well to remember the wisdom of Frantz Fanon 60 years ago: “What matters is not so much the color of your skin as the power you serve and the millions you betray.” 

Global City Madness

What was Emmanuel thinking when in December 2010 he set Chicago up for an epic protest gathering? Here are my best guesses on the inner workings of “Rahmbo’s” egomaniacal brain at the time. Knowing that he’d probably be the new (post- Richard M. Daley) Kim Jong-Il of Chicago by 2012, he hoped that hosting two large international gatherings at the same time would burnish his civic strongman image while fulfilling his local commercial and corporate sponsors’ lust (foiled when Copenhagen turned down the city’s Olympics bid) to have Chicago’s new “global city” status acknowledged. He figured that economic justice and anti-austerity protest was a European and poor-nation phenomenon that would not pose serious risks in U.S. in the age of the great, fake-progressive pacifier Barack Obama. He figured that meaningful antiwar protest was also dead in the Obama era.  At the same time, he relished the prospect of crushing any protests that might emerge with an iron, militarized-policing fist and he looked forward to the likelihood of being able to use standard security concerns connected with the hosting of great power elite gatherings to deepen his capacity for repressing local citizens and workers. He did not know that the Obama pacification bubble would finally pop (three years after the bursting of the financial bubble) for many of the president’s former supporters and give rise in 2011 to a significant American popular upsurge against the wealthy Few and against economic inequality and its political consequences.

Flash forward to the present past the spring Wisconsin uprising and the Occupy Fall last year. Having never let the Occupy Movement pitch a campsite anywhere in his new fiefdom, Emmanuel (affectionately labeled “Mayor 1%” by Occupy Chicago) wanted the president and other global masters to know that he could handle any protest that might emerge. He forced his supine City Council to pass a draconian anti-protest ordinance while his allies sent out an urgent request for colonial war veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq to work out their post traumatic stress issues by taking jobs as private security contractors to keep watch over the ungrateful neo-Yippies and radicals descending upon “the city that works.”

But Obama is not stupid. He might (as the Times’ Jackie Calmes noted) “ boasted for months about playing host to the annual summit meeting of the Group of 8  industrialized nations this May in his hometown, Chicago.” Still, he wasn’t interested in sacrificing his political prospects to the global city madness of Rahmbo and the Chicago bourgeoisie. He sensed that the last thing he needed in an election year was anything like a replay of the 1968 Chicago debacle, which helped remove a previous cadre of war Democrats from the White House. Obama scotched the ill-fated two-summit idea late with a little more than two months to go in the game, citing “traffic concerns” as his reason. The president did the right thing both from a ruling class perspective and in terms of his own political self-interest when he re-established the  post-Genoa G8 norm by pulling the economic gathering back to a remote, citizen-free setting.

An Unwitting Favor to the Left?

My feeling is that protest-minded radicals and progressives should still come to Chicago anyway to honor the legacy of Haymarket by protesting the G8 in absentia and NATO, Boeing, the Obama presidency/campaign, and the corporate Democratic Party in non-absentia. Leading Chicago activist Andy Thayer says that “NATO is, frankly, the de facto military arm of G-8 and anybody who’s upset with G-8 should be upset with NATO.” Things are a little trickier than that (since NATO target Russia is a G8 member) but Thayer is right to suggest that the war party and the money party are two wings of the same global state-capitalist bird of prey.  They are joined together on the back of the rapacious global vulture that is American Empire and Inequality, Inc.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with coming to Chicago simply to protest NATO and the broader U.S. imperial project. It might be good to focus on that project above all. When Rahmbo worked to combine the military gathering with the G8 at the end of 2010, after all, he unwittingly did the Left he so abhors something of a potential favor.  The global justice movement that reared its head in Seattle (1999), Washington DC (2000), and Genoa (2001) focused on economic and environmental matters almost to the point of excluding the more-than-lingering problem of imperial militarism – U.S. imperialism (displayed in the bombing of Serbia that preceded the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle by many months).When the 2001 jetliner attacks provided “the new Pearl Harbor” for an epic U.S. war campaign in Afghanistan and Iraq, the global justice movement was ill-equipped to respond. This was a shame (from a radical perspective) since corporate globalization and American military imperialism were (and remain) two sides of the same world state-capitalist coin – something that the Occupy or post- or neo-Occupy Left would do well to keep in mind.

Paul Street, an Iowa City resident,  is the author or numerous books, including Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis (2007), Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (2008), The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (2010) and (co-authored with Anthony DiMaggio)  Crashing the Tea Party (Paradigm, 2011).  Street can be reached at paulstreet99@yahoo.com.

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).