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No-NATO "Counter-Summit" Opens in Chicago

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 By Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - IL, Contact
May 18, 2012

CHICAGO – All eyes are on Illinois this weekend, as diplomats, police officers and protesters converge on Chicago for the NATO summit. Starting today, the weekend activities also include a Counter-Summit for Peace and Economic Justice organized by a coalition of peace, faith and economic justice groups from America and Europe, calling for an end to NATO.

Chicagoan Mary Zerkel, coordinator of the American Friends Service Committee's "Wage Peace" campaign, says hundreds of people are signed up for the workshops.

"People are really starting to question the amount of money and resources, both dollars and lives, that we're investing in military solutions, and thinking, 'We really need to direct this money to other things our community needs.'"

While President Obama focuses on getting NATO allies to promise financial support for Afghan security forces over the next several years, Zerkel says protesters are trying to convince him to end the war in Afghanistan now, and spend scarce resources on priorities like education and clean energy instead.

Thousands of police officers in riot gear - not only from Chicago, but also from Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Charlotte, North Carolina - are patrolling the streets. However, Zerkel believes the protests will be peaceful.

"We've been doing nonviolence trainings, and coordinating with other groups around the city who've been doing nonviolence trainings, for weeks and weeks. And our experience is, really, that the protesters have every intention of being nonviolent."

The NATO alliance was created in the late 1940s, in part to defend Europe against the growing number of troops in the Soviet Union. The protesters believe with the end of the Cold War, NATO has outlived its purpose. Joseph Gerson, who works with AFSC in New England, sees the whole idea of NATO as based on violence.

"It's sort of like having a million guns, or more than that, in the closet - and rather than rely on diplomatic and nonviolent solutions, or relying on the United Nations to resolve tensions, our first response is to say, 'Let's go bomb.'"

Many NATO leaders went to war in Afghanistan as part of the war on terror after the 9/11 attacks. Obama is promising to bring U.S. troops home by 2014, although the protesters want the war ended sooner.

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