NATO summit in May already stirring up emotions in Chicago
April 5, 2012
Protesters at a previous year’s May Day march. A similar group of protesters is expected for the NATO summit. (Photo by Andy Thayer)

By Jennifer Costanzo

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) will hold meetings in Chicago on Sunday and Monday, May 20 and 21, in McCormick Place. About 5,000 summit attendees, including President Barack Obama and 50 other heads of state, will come together in an attempt to solve global dilemmas.

NATO serves as a unifying defense against outside threats for its 28 member countries in North America and Europe. This meeting is the first time that the group will meet in an American city other than Washington, DC. Some activists object to holding the summit here. Many believe NATO’s involvement in what they deem unnecessary wars and other military actions have led to tensions in and outside of the United States.

Although the G-8 summit of representatives from eight top economic powers, originally scheduled to precede the NATO summit in Chicago, has been moved, protesters are not planning to call off rallying in the streets to make their objections heard by officials. Activists acquired a permit for protests on Saturday, May 19, for the G-8; as of this writing, the City has declined to change the permit date to Sunday, May 20, as requested by protesters.

In any case, local institutions are preparing to insure citizens’ safety in the event that crowds and angry individuals become too difficult to restrain.

Andy Thayer of the Coalition Against the NATO/G-8 War and Poverty Agenda believes “thousands” of protesters will participate but said “there are simply too many factors—human, weather, etc. — for anyone to give a reliable estimate.”

With Chicago’s significant student resident and commuter population, major universities such as DePaul, Roosevelt, and East-West anticipate protesters still will come to the Loop and surrounding areas despite the G-8’s removal.

DePaul said in an official statement that “the Loop Campus will (most likely) be closed from May 19-May 21. Unless DePaul instructs otherwise, staff and students on other campuses will be expected to report to classes and work.”

Roosevelt University administrators, however, decided to impose mandatory shutdown for all campus areas to protect all members of the institution. Thomas Karow, assistant vice president of public relations, said, “the university will be closed Friday, May 18, as well as Monday, May 21. We need to be prudent to ensure that no student or faculty member is put in harm’s way. Classes will be rescheduled, and other details are being discussed at themoment.”

East-West University does not anticipate the same level of tension. John Thomas, director of public relations, said East-West administrators will “be cautious but do not anticipate an enormous difficulty in keeping students safe. For now, we are going to proceed as normal, and if there is any disturbance, it may serve as a teaching opportunity. However, if there is a larger threat, we will advise students to stay at home.”

Like East-West, local hospitals also find the impending summit to be of minimal concern. A spokesperson from the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System noted administrators do not expect serious repercussions from the summit and will serve patients as usual; if an unexpected event occurs, plenty of staff will be on hand to ensure safety.

Mercy Hospital and Medical Center and Rush University Medical Center also expect operations to run normally. The “City of Chicago issues permits for these events, and we stand strong in support of the applicant organizations’ First Amendment right to protest,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The NATO summit has been “designated by the Secretary of Homeland Security as a National Special Security Event.

The United States Secret Service is the lead agency in charge of security.” Emanuel added the City will be working with external sources to “establish an official protest area.”

A spokesperson for the Fraternal Order of Police, Chicago Lodge 7, anticipates “an extraordinary demand on [its] operational resources. NATO is a military alliance, and Chicago is obviously not an appropriate venue for this important organization.” The Chicago Police Department will take all necessary precautions to prevent damage due to this event.

NATO, founded in 1949, operates on the premise that an “attack on one is an attack on all” 28 members. It is classified as a “global security network.” Despite safety concerns, the summit offers an opportunity for Chicago to witness an international gathering of prominent world leaders. The summit is closed to the public, but the Chicago NATO host committee will help keep residents informed on happenings during the event.