The constant beat of helicopter blades. The wail of sirens. Heavily armed police in groups of 20-30 on every corner. Since last Thursday, this has been the scene around my house in Chicago as the city prepared for the NATO meeting, May 20-21. I live seven blocks north of the conference center where NATO met, and for the last few days I got a small taste of what it might be like to live in a police state
This is the new face of “peace” in our time. “If you want peace, work for justice,” said Pope Paul VI. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” taught Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 5:9). But today, peace is not the presence of justice, the care of the poor and the sick. It is starting to look like the future of “peace” is defined as the domestic control of citizens.
I think what I have been seeing in Chicago is the future of NATO.
NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is a strategic alliance of countries from North America and Europe who signed a mutual defense treaty on April 4, 1949, and is a relic of the Cold War.
What is NATO’s mission in a post-Cold War world, when the biggest problem faced by both the European alliance and the United States is economic?
I thought I saw the future of NATO revealed in the extraordinary clamp down on my Chicago neighborhood. Many residents just left for the weekend. We stayed; our favorite brunch place on Saturday morning was filled with many in the blue and black uniform of the Chicago police, as well as an unfamiliar tan uniform with SWAT patches on the arms. Streets were blocked with snowplows, trash trucks, buses and huge gated fences, patrolled by heavily armed police.
As I looked around at the massively militarized “security” for NATO in Chicago, I wondered if I was witnessing the new NATO in action. As European countries like Greece and others protest “austerity” measures by taking to the streets, domestic control of citizen unrest may be what NATO does next. Change may also come at the ballot box, as happened in France, and Greece is heading to new elections. But for Europe, as well as for the U.S., the economic picture is not bright and millions, especially young people, will continue to be out of work or underemployed. They will take to the streets, as they already have done.
British economist Shabir Razvi warned in advance of the G8 and NATO meetings, that there is a prospect of “uncontrollable” civil unrest looming over European Union member states as a result of the economic “austerity” measures being implemented in EU countries. “We are living through a phase at this moment whereby the pressures on the ordinary people will ignite something, which the ruling elite may not be able to control,” he noted. While President Obama called for “job growth” at the G8 meeting, “fiscal responsibility,” i.e. austerity measures, was also a theme. The “pressures on ordinary people” will certainly continue.
Thus, the NATO showcase in Chicago was actually less inside the McCormick Center than outside, on the streets. NATO’s future may very well be cooperation for “security” in the NATO countries as we enter the age of domestic unrest.
On Sunday, May 20, several things happened in Chicago. One is that, as the NATO Web site announced, a contract was signed for “the purchase and initial operation and maintenance of unmanned aircraft equipped with advanced ground surveillance radar sensors.” That is, drones, which can be used in many ways, including for domestic surveillance.
Another event was the peace march to protest the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a call for jobs. Thousands marched peacefully down Michigan Avenue. I talked to three older men who had driven in from the northern suburbs (Rockford) to carry their sign, “Books not bombs.” They were typical. There were many families with young children and a lot of singing.
The march reached the conference center, and veterans spoke movingly of their opposition to the wars in which they had fought. They threw their medals into the street. “We want to ‘help’ other countries but we can’t even take care of our sisters right here,” said one war vet. “”I’m giving these medals back to the 1/3rd of women in the military who are sexually assaulted. I’m sorry,” said another. Some apologized to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. Following those speeches, the majority of the people dispersed, though a crowd of 50-100 remained, squaring off in front of the police line. The number of protestors was nearly equaled by members of the press, some of whom were with their cameras and cell phones on the front lines as is clear in the Channel 5 team broadcast. NBC Chicago’s report shows protestors beaten and arrested; some police sustained injuries as well, though the riot police in their extensive body armor and masks seemed more robotic than human as they pushed demonstrators away from the area around where NATO was meeting.
The world, not just NATO, is facing a stark choice. Will the new face of “peace” become the domestic militarization of police? Will the new face of “peace” be citizens determined to draw media attention through confrontation because they believe their leaders do not mean to really place job creation first on their political agenda?
Just Peacemaking is a new paradigm for peace that I and other interfaith leaders have been working on for 25 years. Sustainable economic progress and democratic processes are hallmarks of this approach to peace, now supported by many interfaith leaders.
Pope Paul VI was right. The path to peace must go through the creation of justice. Peace can never be made with more SWAT teams and drone technology. That way lies violence and chaos.