Wednesday, May 23, 2012

On Sunday, May 20th, 2012, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) held its Summit in Chicago. Being FlagRunners, we started up north and ran into the city to catch the action. As we ran, we started to see the changes. From the outset, helicopters and jets flew overhead, not normal to Chicago unless the Air & Water Show is on. But for the most part, life went on per usual. It wasn't until the West Loop that the scene really started to change. Major expressways were closed down, with motorcades of officials, security, FBI agents, and bike patrols that paraded through streets, blocked access ways and barricades scrutinized the most casual observer and activist, the city was in lockdown as far as we could tell. This is like running the Chicago Marathon--everything is closed off to let the runners through, large dump trucks parallel parked on street entrances completely blocking traffic on foot or car. We were waved off from normal routes and told to get back several times as we freely ran down the middle of the city streets; great time to run in the city, terrible time to need to drive into the city. We kept wondering what is this costing the city, or have they an angle on this venue that we just do not understand.

We wanted to see the story from all sides. There are a lot of mixed feelings about NATO. There are a lot of mixed feelings about the government right now. Regardless of views, everyone had a flag portraying their beliefs. Some strapped them to their backs, while others flew them outside the conference building, setting up a makeshift day camp. Chicago was full of new flags and banners. No matter what your cause or what side of the aisle, flags were flying; a central part of how people gathered at rally points and times. Some welcomed the nations leaders, while others asked them to change their ways.

We ran through the loop, heading over to Grant Park to catch the protesters' point of view. Papers, pamphlets and flags were everywhere. Once inside Grant Park everything was different. We sat in the crowd and listened to protesters' speeches. Many subjects were raised within a 20 minute period. There was a speech on the war on immigration, a speech on education reform, a speech on Palestinian oppression, and a speech on union laws. A large Palestinian flag was carried by about thirty people down the street. It could not be ignored. The symbol and symbolism was so dramatic, dozens of interviews and TV crews were up and down Columbus Ave. People were in groups of all sizes and the event was on. The speeches were impassioned, heated, even angry; the protesters themselves happy to be in their element, involved and participating in the NATO rally. Many seemed to be engaged in a feast of sorts making an attempt at inspiring some change.

Funny how a few short miles away, you would never know Chicago was held hostage to this Summit and protesting. Outside the wall of dump trucks and police officers, Chicago seemed to be having a normal Sunday. Routine events seemed in some ways better attended to us. It was nice to see others enjoying their hobbies and living the Chicago lifestyle in our home city, along our beloved Lake Michigan.
Later that day there was a march, and while there was some violence it was, for the most part, a peaceful assembly. It was estimated as many as 4000 people rallied that day, each person a part of a message for change. Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan returned their medals to the government, denouncing the award of service to their country. Maybe this was a pointless gesture to the government, but a healing and cathartic response to the veterans' feeling of abandonment and ill-found reasons for these wars. About 3 dozen participated in the Veterans for Peace march. Their flag is a black helmet with a white dove carrying an olive branch. Underneath is the URL

As for the FlagRunners, we have never taken part in such a polarized event as this one. You know we are just people who like people who fly flags. As we run from flagpole to flagpole and share how a problem can be solved with others that are having the same problem, it is a testament to our own progress as FlagRunners that we would be the ones out of our element and curious as to the stories we were watching take place with these people.