Region residents among thousands who protest NATO in Chicago

2012-05-20T20:45:00Z 2012-05-30T23:08:18Z Region residents among thousands who protest NATO in ChicagoBy Gregory Tejeda Times Correspondent
May 20, 2012 8:45 pm  • 

CHICAGO | Calumet Region residents were among the thousands of protesters who expressed disgust for NATO on the first day of a Chicago summit involving representatives from about 60 nations.

"NATO is a drain not only on the United States but also on many of its other member countries," said Phil Mueller, of Crown Point. "It really should have gone away in 1989 after the breakup of the Soviet Union."

Mueller and some of his friends marched with protesters from Grant Park to State Street and ultimately back to Michigan Avenue, where they headed south to near Cermak Road. Police tried to divert them west away from the McCormick Place convention center where the NATO summit is being hosted through Monday.

Those protesters — who at their peak formed a line in the street about a mile long — were mostly peaceful until some tried to push their way farther south, resulting in a standoff with Chicago police and arrests.

Mueller, his friends and many other residents from Northwest Indiana and Chicago's south suburbs broke away from the group near Roosevelt Road so they could catch South Shore Line or Metra commuter trains home.

Nick Egnatz, a Munster resident and member of the Veterans for Peace group, said the departures should not be seen as a lack of support for the anti-war cause — the overlying message expressed Sunday.

Egnatz said he could understand why protesters would want to get as close to McCormick Place as possible — so delegates actually might be able to hear their chants and shouts.

"They might not care what we think, but maybe we could sway one or two of them to do the right thing," he said. "It definitely would make us feel better."

The protest march that took place after a two-hour rally at Grant Park was led by military veterans, many in uniform, who view the military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan as a mistake by the United States.

Among those veterans was Vincent Emanuele, an East Side neighborhood native who graduated from Chesterton High School and is now Indiana state coordinator for the Iraq Veterans Against the War organization.

He said events such as Sunday's protest march are important because he believes many people do not understand what NATO is or how it contributes to military conflicts around the world.

"That seems to be the real issue: Many people don't understand what is happening," Emanuele said, adding his group had no intention of causing a ruckus.

"We didn't come here to break windows," he said. "I think those people (in the standoff) hurt us by distracting attention from the issues we're concerned about."

Except for the end of the protest Sunday afternoon, the vibe of the event was peaceful. Those marching along the route were compliant with police requirements to stay orderly. Harvey Grossman, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said police and protesters were going out of their way to cooperate with each other.

"This was a very nonviolent crowd," Grossman said. "Nobody came here looking for trouble."

Some marchers carried signs with provocative messages such as "¡Viva Ahmadinejad y Chavez!" — wishing long life for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The Rev. Jesse Jackson marched with protesters while carrying a U.S. flag.

The Rev. Jerry Zawada, a former Northwest Indiana resident, earned the interest of others with a shirt that read, "I'm not disturbing the peace. I'm disturbing the war."

The event attracted people from across the nation — including Hunter Doherty "Patch" Adams, a doctor dramatized in a Robin Williams film, who believes in using humor in medicine.

Adams, a Washington, D.C., native, participated in the event dressed in a clown costume. However, he was not in a humorous mood Sunday because he also opposes NATO and is disappointed with President Barack Obama's continued support of military initiatives.

"Anybody who calls Obama a 'liberal,' then calls me a 'liberal' is insulting me," Adams said. "Obama is really a Republican. He doesn't stick up for what's right."

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