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On the Eve of NATO in My Hometown

Looking down on the Sears Tower tonight, you wouldn’t suspect a major event was just hours away.  It’s quieter than most Saturday nights – except in Wrigleyville, where Chicago’s baseball and sports fans fill the streets and the bars as usual.  But in other parts of my hometown, huge barricades and security parameters await the potential for mass protest and any related unrest.

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I’ve been here for a week working to support the huge protest National Nurses United staged at Daley Plaza on Friday. It was great.  Tom Morello, Libertyville native, rocked the place and fired up the crowds on Friday.   Tom and his union sisters and brothers want a Robin Hood Tax – a small tax on Wall Street transactions that could raise $350 billion every year.  Their staged protest was a miraculous success – timed perfectly to hit the sweet spot of media interest and public anxiety.

And I’ve been listening to Chicago’s working people – the cabbies, the wait staff, the police officers (yes, they are working people too), and the other service staff in hotels and retail establishments.  NATO isn’t just a group of world leaders meeting against whom the multiplicity of social justice and anti-war activists can protest.  NATO is a scourge on the working people of Chicago.  Real people are losing days of pay and tips and business while those who want to protest sleep on church floors and in solidarity housing and eat donated food.

The “1 percenters” who are here for NATO or who are leading protests against NATO aren’t really too concerned with Chicago’s working people and their plight.  You can tell who the “1 percenters” are by their lack of concern for the rest of us – their lack of concern for the rest of Chicago’s working people and their worry about their own personal safety lest the rest of us do too much protesting against them.  The “1-percenters” want to make sure they keep themselves clean of the unwashed masses.  They want the services we provide to be provided in an uninterrupted way, but they surely do not stand with you and they surely do not stand with me.

So, I look down on the desolate streets tonight and wonder what the lone city street sweeper is thinking and what may become of his city block.  I couldn’t stay until the close of the Woody Guthrie Tribute concert because I have a 6 am shift to work, security measures around that hotel where I have to report mean I’ll have to rise at 4:30 am to be on time, and my feet are still swollen from my work yesterday.  The cabbie who drove me back to my place was worried about tomorrow’s fares.  NATO has affected each working person a bit differently.  Our worries are concrete.  We don’t want to lose income or standing in the wake of the meeting in Chicago.  We cannot show any weakness in the face of whatever may come.

Next week, I may learn more about my own cancer but no weakness dare be shown this week.  Today, I damned well better perform to my capacity.  Like me, my cabbie worries about today and that his cab lease must still be paid though the crowds in Chicago are largely not using cabs for transport and his income is severely diminished.  Everywhere you turn in Chicago is a person who fears for loss of income because of serious family responsibilities and worry we’ll let someone down.  Though some groups claim to represent the workers, the real trauma is playing out in the people of Chicago still trying to work and remain cheerful even as they believe in the issues others protest around them.

If I had access to quality healthcare and a secure retirement, I’d feel so free.  I don’t have that nor do most working people.  We are slaves to our human needs and our human masters and mistresses.  We fear for our lives and the live of those for whom we are responsible.  And the “1 percenters” know that, count on it, and trust they can take advantage of us at every turn without much consequence because they hold so many of us in a state of fear and a state of restless obligation.

But, I know one thing for sure about my hometown –  my beloved Chicago.  We value our own.  We protect our own. When push comes to shove, Chicagoans know the facts.  We are not idiots.  No matter what NATO weekend brings us, Chicagoans will rise up and do the right things by one another.  In the end, the “1 percenters,” here to capitalize on the weekend’s activities or here as residents, will stand accountable to the rest of us in Chicago. 

We, in Chicago, value hard work, decency, kindness, compassion, and all the things that make us who we are.  So, don’t think you’ve fooled us.  We get it.  We are the 99 percent.  We want peace.  We want healthcare for all, under a progressively financed, single standard of high quality care, and we want jobs.  We trust our native sons and daughters – and we’ll trust you too, if you are telling us the truth.  And trust me, we can tell when you are working us for your benefit and not for our own. Peace, justice, compassion.  None of these are easily faked.  Rise up, Chicago, but be wise.  Many are here to use your generous and open arms, and many will take their leave without a care.

Chicago is a great city with incredible people.  Stand tall.  Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free, again and always.  I don’t want to see huge, violent protest hurt real people while the 1-percenters stand away from the fray.  That would be a real tragedy for Chicago and for working people.  But the real war is in our lives every day, in Chicago and everywhere. 

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Donna Smith

Donna Smith
Donna Smith is the executive director of Progressive Democrats of America.  PDA's mission is to strengthen the voice of progressive ideas inside and outside the Democratic Party by using "inside/outside" and "grassroots fusion" models of working both in the Democratic Party as well as working with other progressive organizations both inside and outside the Party.

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