As one of the thousands of people who participated in the peace rally at the NATO Summit in Chicago, I want to say first that most of the media coverage of that event, at least the print coverage, was skewed for the sensational, the generic, the stereotypical ... and failed seriously to grasp the central story that transpired.
The reports were, by and large, threadbare and far from any attempt to get in depth to the significance of the event as it developed throughout the day. If I had not been there, reading even several of the articles in major news sources, I would get the idea that a relatively small group of marginal people had made some noise on a hot day in Chicago. I would be instantly attracted to the three arrested for terrorist plots; to "black clothed masked protesters" who taunted the police; to "anarchists," some of whom were arrested after the march had ended late in the afternoon.
In short, I would have understood there was some sort of rally, police contained the hotheads, there were a number of arrests ... (yawn). Nowhere did I read an account by any media source of what I experienced as the heart of this entire gathering — the most outstanding event of the weekend — nor any analysis of the cogent points presented by the numerous anti-war or peace-based organizations that collaborated at this huge event. Very briefly let me provide a view from the street as one who was fortunate to be part of this significant event.
To go to "the heart" of the gathering: The IVAW, Iraq Veterans Against War, convened to return their campaign medals from the various Iraq and Afghan campaigns — the Global War on Terror. In the morning, they performed music at a bandshell. Strange PA problems they encountered were overcome as they elected to get off the stage and stand among the large crowd of peace activists performing moving songs written based on their experiences as soldiers. No mention of this concert of the songs, let alone quotes from the powerful lyrics are in the mass media.
Leading the two-and-a-half mile march, on a scorching day in Chicago, the IVAW assembled on a stage at the march's destination — as close as possible to the building in which the NATO leaders were assembled, blocks away. At no time was there any conceivable threat from the thousands of peaceful protesters to any leaders from NATO. I saw thousands of police in the city; Chicago police flanked the march shoulder-to-shoulder, repositioning themselves as the march proceeded. While there are always immature people in a crowd, the police that I saw were respectful and restrained, some chatted with demonstrators and the demonstrators, by and large, did not taunt police.
There was an overwhelming police presence on hand, including riot police at one point, helmeted, clubs in hand, braced for any possible action. The protesters had nothing: water bottles for the dehydrating conditions, lattice sticks to hold their signs. There was never any credible threat from the protesters and, let me be clear, most of them are PEACE activists — they assemble to PROTEST violence ... not to bring violence nor to threaten violence.
At the march destination, young ex-soldiers, from every branch of the military, took the microphone. One after another they identified themselves, explained their deployments, and briefly shared their experience of the wars as front line combatants. To a person, and of course these are men and women, they had joined the service for the best reasons, believing they were protecting their country, believing they were freeing someone, believing they were helping to spread democracy. Each of them a patriot who loves their country. No one — no one — can take anything away from these people.
To a person, each in his or her own unscripted heartfelt words, they briefly said that the reality of these conflicts is horrific, inhumane, that they are helping no one save the companies that profit from wars and that the wars are ruining humans. Innocent people in these countries, and well-meaning American servicemen and women, who become engaged in slaughter.
They were ashamed of their medals. They stated that the medals were meaningless to them now ... and, one-by-one they threw handfuls of campaign medals in the direction of McCormick Place, the NATO Summit convetion place. THIS WAS THE HEART AND SENSE OF THIS PEACE MARCH.
Nowhere do I read anything that even attempts to get at the import of this event. In the meantime, an Afghan for Peace group also took the microphone ... women from this occupied country ... and although their greatest desire would have been for the soldiers never to have decimated their country ... although they were understandably averse, to put it mildly, to a force which continues to this day to strike their countrymen, their sisters, their children with its sophisticated weaponry — they told these soldiers that they loved them ... that love and peace are the only means that are credible and goals that are worthy. How the media could cheapen this powerful event ... how they could ignore the sentiments and concerted passion for an end to aggression ... begs the question, "Do we have anything that even approximates a free press in our country?"
I will say this in closing: I was proud to witness the honor of the veterans assembled in Chicago on Sunday, the 20th, to express sincerely what they had learned firsthand in the classroom of reality, and to return their medals to their unresponsive leaders. No one could be more effective teachers of peace than those who have directly experienced the reality of war. May each of these honorable Americans continue to heal. They have experienced the reality of war. May each of these honorable Americans continue to heal.