The past couple of weeks have been something of a roller-coaster for National Nurses United and it all culminates today with the first major march and rally in what is expected to be a weekend of protest in Chicago. But it was a fight to get even there. Last Tuesday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his administration announced that the National Nurses United (NNU) protest against austerity measures that benefit NATO, the G8, and other elites would not be allowed to end its May 18 rally in Daley Plaza. The anti-NATO-G8 protest—billed as “a rally to tax Wall Street and heal America” — will likely draw thousands into the Loop on a workday afternoon and, as such, was threatened to be marginalized to Grant Park’s Butler field, according to NNU organizers.
NNU Midwest Director, Jan Rodolfo, RN, speaking at a press conference last Thursday morning, spoke on the union’s plans to file for injunctive relief in federal court rather than succumb to the city’s demands of either to accept the permit changes to the route or have it rescinded entirely. The city gave the union two days to make a decision. Organizers and counsel decided to pursue legal avenues to assert their right to protest, but would rally in Grant Park if their legal challenge failed.
“The city wants to push us aside to Petrillo Bandshell, [in Grant Park],” said Rodolfo, “rather than have us march into the heart of downtown Chicago to Daley Plaza, clearly a center of symbolic protest. We will not be silent. We did not cancel our event when the G8 decided to hide at Camp David. We are not going to cancel our event now.”
Amidst the widespread outcries and protests on behalf of the NNU, the city reversed its decision earlier this week.
National Nurses United, with more than 170,000 registered nurses, is the largest nursing union in the country and allied with other unions across the globe — many of whom have expressed outrage at the Emanuel administration’s last-minute decision to change the permit conditions. Their event is shaping up to be quite the kick-off event to the NATO Summit as they advocate for a “Robin Hood tax” on Wall Street.
While Occupy Chicago and other groups have a week’s worth of events planned, the National Nurses United march — featuring Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello — promises to be the first mass gathering of protesters against next weekend’s NATO summit.
The city had cited the addition of Morello to the rally line-up as the reason for the change in permit status. But what the city should really be worried about is not the handful of well-known musicians, journalists, activists and other pseudo-celebrities of the left drawing large crowds. Rather, the Emanuel administration should worry about the way many movements are converging under the banner of resisting NATO-G8 policies.
The press conference, hosted by Occupy Chicago, included an impressive lineup of organizers and spokespersons united against the NATO summit, with representatives from the anti-war movement (CANG8, IVAW, and Network for a NATO Free Future) along with supporters from labor, independent media and community groups. This showing of solidarity is a force to be reckoned with, as days of action for education, the environment, immigration reform, economic justice, counter-summits, popular assemblies, concerts, marches and rallies will consume Chicagoans and visitors from across the globe for more than ten days.
Mainstream media is predicting smaller numbers of protesters filling the streets of Chicago than if the G8 summit would have remained in the city. But such an assessment is premature. The Obama Administration’s decision to move the G8 meetings was seen by many as victory for the converging economic justice and anti-war movements made possible by the Occupy movement.
Furthermore, the focus on NATO, in the words of CANG8 organizer Joe Iosbaker, “as the armed wing of the one percent,” combines the 99 percent meme of economic justice and anti-austerity protests with the kind of anti-militarism that made Dr. King’s prophetic condemnation of capitalism, racism, and militarism so volatile for the vital interests of the oligarchy. While such an analysis may have once been relegated to radical cafés and Marxists’ FBI dossiers, it is becoming a commonplace occurrence in occupations and dinner tables across the country as the dots between austerity and militarism are getting connected.
Everyday, more organizations and people are endorsing the NATO protests and planning to join in. Across the country, buses are being booked and church halls and couches filled as people are realizing just how historic of a moment this convergence is going to be. A number of protests have already occurred, including civil disobedience at the Obama campaign headquarters, immigration and foreclosure actions, and a Black Bloc FTP/Anti-Capitalist march on the Southside of Chicago.
NNU’s original plans for their protest was to focus on economic inequality and the G8 meetings. Now, the NNU and others are forced to broaden the scope of their analysis and protest to explain the connection between NATO and the G8 to their large constituencies. NNU’s commitment to protest at the NATO summits, and the allies they’ve found in their fight against the city, reflects the convergence — or spill over — across different movements that made the Seattle 1999 protests so well-attended and successful.
Administrative hurdles and legal challenges to impede the coming together of a real solidarity of interests — labor, environmental, economic, peace — while annoying, questionable, and unjust also reveals the emerging battleground between a movement, powerholders, and the public. So while National Nurses United are at their wits end with the Windy City’s bureaucracy, this is an unfolding drama that is just getting starting.