All hyped up

Some protesters and business leaders downplay early forecasts for disaster at G8/NATO summit

02/15/2012 10:00 PM

By IAN FULLERTON
Contributing Reporter

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As Chicago collectively gears up to play host for the G8 and North Atlantic Treaty Organization summits later this spring, idle talk of how the globally-watched events might play out in the white city has ranged from brassbound optimism to survivalist warnings.

Held as a platform for the heads of economically-leading countries to discuss global issues such as war and poverty, the annual G8 and NATO gatherings come with the promise of spectacle, as deliberations inside the meeting chambers are often overshadowed by the clashes between law enforcement officials and protesters at the steps of the summits.

This year’s meetings — set to take place between May 19 and 21 at McCormick Place and estimated to cost between $40 and $65 million to stage — are expected to attract waves of international tourists and media entities to the city, as well as scores of protesters intent on canvassing the event.

“It’s a chance … to speak out against the generals and bankers who are responsible for most of the human misery on the planet,” said Joe Iosbaker, an organizer with the activist group Coalition Against the NATO and G8 War & Poverty Agenda — or CANGATE, for short.

The group, which formed in August shortly after Chicago was confirmed as the host city, recently received permits from the city to hold a march from Daley Plaza to McCormick Place on the opening day of the meetings.

Organized in solidarity with countless human rights organizations, labor advocates and various political and social justices groups, the march, Iosbaker said, will be nothing if not safe.

“It will be a legal demonstration, and we are committed to it being a family-friendly demonstration,” he said.

While he couldn’t account for some of the groups that will inevitably demonstrate without permits, Iosbaker said that CANGATE has met with members of Occupy Chicago and other activist camps that have vowed to abide by the “Chicago Principles,” a set of guidelines for demonstrators that stress the importance of “treating each other with respect and working towards a common goal of peace and justice,” among other tenets.

Activists from elsewhere, though, have made less flowery promises regarding the scene outside the summits.

In late January, the Canadian anti-establishment magazine Adbusters posted a message on its website predicting that an influx of 50,000 people from various countries would “flock to Chicago, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and [occupy Chicago] for a month.”

“With a bit of luck, we’ll pull off the biggest multinational occupation of a summit meeting the world has ever seen,” the post read. The brief went on to warn that if their agendas were not heeded, demonstrators would clog financial, educational and corporate institutions across the globe “with Gandhian ferocity.”

In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times published that same day, Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce Jerry Roper waxed on the worst-case scenarios that local businesses could face at the hands of summit protests. Roper told the paper that owners should consider evacuation strategies in case of rioting and suggested that shops on State Street and North Michigan Avenue hire 24-hour security personnel and make preparations to board up broken windows during the meetings.

Roper later criticized the Sun-Times for “overstating” his comments regarding security during the events, injecting in a press statement that “Chicago is the city that works and what we do best is put on big events such as these summits.”

A representative from the chamber declined to comment for this story.

Whether these injunctions will succeed in preventing the circus environment seen at past summits is yet to be known, but the fear of lawless anarchy on the streets of Chicago seems be slow in reaching most business owners in the city’s Loop area.

“There’s great enthusiasm, more than anything,” said Ty Tabing, executive director of the Chicago Loop Alliance, a non-profit group that promotes commerce downtown.

Among the organization’s 250 members, Tabing said that so far he has heard little in the way of plans to board up windows.

Details relayed to the business community on security planning for the two-week affair have been “general, for the most part,” he said, but maintained that the CLA has a “great working relationship” with officers and sergeants in the 1st District, where the summits and most of the related events will be held.

“We’re really awaiting more information as the city provides it,” he said, “so we best know how to prepare for some of the eventualities that have been discussed.”

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