CMJ, May 24, 2012

Making “Illa-Noise” in Chicago Against NATO and the Afghanistan War

By Betty Yu

“I am a daughter of an [Afghan] refugee, and my taxpayer dollars are being used to kill my family. The media is playing this [Afghanistan war] as a “good war” and that it is helping to liberate Afghan women. Bombing Afghanistan into oblivion is not going to help these women. NATO occupation out of Afghanistan!”
-Samira Sayed –Rahman, Afghans for Peace

Samira Sayed-Rahman of Afghans for Peace
Samira Sayed-Rahman of Afghans for Peace. (Photo: Afghans for Peace)

On Sunday, May 20th, veterans of the Iraq, Afghanistan and the “Global War on Terror”, led by the Iraq Veterans Against the War, returned their war medals to NATO’s generals, denouncing and calling an end to these senseless wars.

This past weekend, President Barack Obama hosted the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Summit in his hometown of Chicago. It’s the largest meeting in its 63-year history. The Chicago Police Department and Homeland Security declared Chicago, a “National Security Event”, and deployed thousands of federal, state and city law enforcement authorities to clamp down on a peaceful and non-violent display of protest and free speech. But long before NATO set its eyes on Chicago, the city has had a reputation as a “police state” with a history of encouraging violence against people of color and activists.

NATO’s theme this year was the 12-year war against Afghanistan, repeatedly called by the Bush (and now Obama) administration “Operation Enduring Freedom”. This weekend, as war generals and government officials met to discuss this continuation of war, the number of soldiers killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars climbed to 6428. According to a recent United Nations report, 2011 was the deadliest on record for civilians in the Afghan war, with 3,021 killed.

An Anti-War Video Screens Inside the Walls of Official NATO Summit

A few days before the NATO Summit, the American Civil Liberties Union was able to negotiate 10 minutes in the official General Assembly schedule to present alternative anti-war views to NATO. I had the pleasure of editing a short 4-minute video ( ), with guidance from IVAW and it that showed on two large 50-foot jumbotron screens during the two-day meeting. Creating videos like this in collaboration with movement-building groups like IVAW and screening in front of NATO officials, is also the embodiment of media justice.

I felt honored to have had the opportunity to make a small contribution to this important work. As one veteran put it:

“The enemies are not 7,000 miles away from home [in Afghanistan] they are sitting in board rooms, they are CEOs, they are bankers….and we’ve had enough of it…”

Tracking NATO Protests Through Social Media

On Sunday I, like many other activists and organizers who weren’t on the ground in Chicago, scrambled between #NONATO #NATO twitter feeds, Facebook status updates, choppy live webstream feeds, Occupy Chicago, and other alternative websites, to piece together what was is happening with the protests. The mainstream media, of course did its job of blacking out the large protests from the American people’s consciousness. Instead, the corporate media justified the high level of anti-terrorist security, depicted the protests as “violent clashes” and downplayed the numbers, saying there were only 2000 people marching- despite countless eyewitnesses who reported tens of thousands marching in the streets. If it wasn’t for network neutrality and Internet Freedom, my ability to access all these sites to construct what was happening would be virtually impossible.

On the ground level, activists took it upon themselves to broadcast what was really happening through live webstreams, filming these actions with their mobile phones. On the #NONATO and #NATO twitter feeds, messages flooded in reporting on blocked off streets and stories of helping fellow protestors navigate to the march. When asked what the reactions were like from the police to all these cameras in their faces, one livestreamer commented, “they don’t know what to do or how to react. It’s still new to them”. In the past, authorities could implement their own violent brand of “crowd control” largely unchecked. Suddenly, the protestors have turned the tables on the police and are broadcasting live the brute force authorities have used against protestors.

In the last few days, dozens of videos shot largely by mobile phones captured the heavy police crackdown on protestors, one even showed someone getting run over by a police van. Tim Pool, operator of Timcast UStream, a popular livestream, along with two other protest livestreamers were stopped at gunpoint by the Chicago police department in the middle of the night on Saturday and interrogated. Their car was stopped which held a car full of livestreaming equipment and in real time documented and broadcast being stopped to the rest of the world via the Internet.

For Full Report:

Afghans protest the killing of two civilians during a joint Afghan-NATO raid early Tuesday
May 20, 2012: Members of Afghans for Peace walk in the anti-war protest in Chicago. (Photo: CMJ)

Thousands of protestors participating in an anti-war march walk south on Michigan Avenue for a rally near McCormick Place
May 20, 2012: Thousands of protestors participating in an anti-war march walk south on Michigan Avenue for a rally near McCormick Place. (Photo: Zbigniew Bzdak / Chicago Tribune)

Originally published on May 22, 2012

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