I am a protester.

I do not fit into your narrow stereotype.

I am not a threat to the beat cop.

I salute the good intentions of the veterans who believed the lies of their leaders.

I ache for the National Guardsmen ripped from their daily lives to patrol a militarized city.

I am humbled by the dedicated volunteer street medics treating spectators and participants affected by unseasonable heat – never once considering a request for a co-pay or pausing for a thank you.

The medal ceremony at the footsteps of the NATO conference on May 20th was the largest demonstration of honor, solidarity, peace , patriotism and valor I have ever attended. The crowd was rooted to the ground and riveted by the unscripted words of men and women who know the unknowable and endured the unendurable.

Cheers of gratitude and appreciation still filled the air as an announcement by Chicago Police told us we had to move west. Only to the west. Transit buses lined State Street to the north and cops on horseback fortified the wall to the east, protecting NATO attendees from viewing a large helping of public opinion.

And if I had followed the barricades lining Cermak as the crowd was told to disperse to the west, I would have landed in the altercation between the First Amendment and the enforcement arm of our war waging elected officials. I’m glad I was hungry and looking for a way north to a favorite neighborhood spot.

I don’t excuse the individual choices that led to bloody faces, expensive dental work and concussions. However, I do recognize that the environment created by militarizing a segment of a city and heightening the fear of those tasked with patrolling it could only have ended with injury. Those conditions – barricades, riot gear, tear gas, eardrum-bursting sound cannons, military dress – were imposed upon both the Chicago and State Police and the demonstrators by a fearful ruling class.

The sight of police marching in brand new riot gear, pausing only to strap on gas masks and hearing protection, quickened my pulse – and I’m not a threat to anyone. Having watched the entire parade organized by the Iraq Veterans Against the War I still marvel at such a show of force; what a completely disproportionate response as the 5,000+ spectators and participants attempted to wander out of the area.

People stopped to talk to friends, paused to check on elderly demonstrators and sat down to rest their feet in the shade knowing the wait for public transit would be lengthy. Chinatown looked like a neighborhood welcoming summer – except for the cops on horseback, poorly placed barricades and shoulder to shoulder National Guard wielding weapons.

I used to think the police and military forces of my country existed to protect my rights. I imagine that the majority of individuals who sign up to serve do so with that righteous objective.

But something has happened. We as a people have allowed fear to become our motivator. We allow eighteen-month-olds to be tossed off planes and three-year-old wheelchair-bound children to be manhandled by the TSA all in the name of security.

I have heard a number of people that I care about who have stellar personal ethics say things like: “Of course the cops were in riot gear. They had to be prepared for those people.”

I am those people. And they know I am those people. Yet they still feel comfortable expressing sentiments insinuating overwhelming, constant, lethal danger brought on by the presence of those people. Those people and their chants for peace are such an aberration that it has become mainstream to disparage them and assume their motives are sinister. Apathy is common and understood. The outspoken, bold nature of those people is uncomfortable and unnerving to the masses.

Meanwhile, no one mentions the people behind the guards inside McCormick Place. What about these people? How do these people escape mainstream scrutiny? These people have perpetuated war in already devastated countries – devastating the lives of our brave troops along the way. Even when they come back alive our veterans do not come back whole. TWENTY-FIVE veterans commit suicide for every soldier that dies overseas. That blood is on the hands of these people, tucked away in air conditioned conference rooms with their catered lunches and dirty consciences.

So if the demonstrations surrounding the recent NATO conference in Chicago were bothersome, I humbly ask you to consider why. Which part bothered you? Am I the part that you found frustrating?

If you looked outside and your only emotion was anger at the inconvenience of carrying a utility bill to get through checkpoints to your condo, I question the object of your scorn.

If the unplanned but constitutionally protected act of marching to ask that our tax dollars fund education, healthcare and food instead of overseas nation building raised your anxiety level because you were late to work, I hope you read a demonstrator’s sign and were forced to spend time in reflection.

If you have blame for the tens of thousands who flooded the streets crying out for peace and none for the people who wage war, I am sad for you.

If you heard drums beats, but did not come down to listen to the veterans our country sent to war and refused to care for upon their return as they hurled their medals in an attempt to begin healing, I cannot explain what I felt as I watched.

I hope one day you awaken. There will be a place for you at my side when you do.

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Categories: Finding My Voice

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