Updated: May 30, 2012 8:18AM
“From the bottom of the ocean
To the mountains on the moon
Won’t you please come to Chicago
No one else can take your place . . .
We can change the world.”
Crosby, Stills & Nash, 1970
You may be hearing that old song, inspired by the 1968 Democratic Convention and the Chicago Seven trial, again soon as protesters “come to Chicago” for the NATO Summit.
When they do, the Rev. Phil Blackwell says he will “have quite a perch” to observe.
Blackwell, 68, is the senior minister of the First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple. His church is on the 23rd floor of a building across from Daley Plaza, a prime stage for some of the planned protests.
“If people cannot get to church because it’s cordoned off,” he said by phone, “then maybe we’ll bring church down to them on the sidewalk.”
Blackwell, like the rest of us, doesn’t know what to expect in terms of either protest or police presence when 60 world leaders arrive, crisscrossing the city in 100 daily motorcades.
On Friday, May 20, right before the summit, a coalition of environmental, labor and health groups will march to Daley Plaza to object to U.S. economic policies they believe benefit Wall Street at the expense of Main Street.
Somewhere in that crowd will be Jan Rodolfo, a 36-year-old oncology nurse, who grew up in Chicago’s Little Italy and now works for National Nurses United.
“I was one of those arrested in Grant Park [in October] with the Occupy movement,” she said. Rodolfo was a medic at that Occupy protest last fall. “People were coming to our first-aid tent . . . who didn’t have health care in general,” she said. “People with chronic headaches, rashes, a cancer patient who couldn’t afford pain medication.”
Rodolfo’s group is lobbying for placing a small transaction tax on Wall Street stock, bond and derivative trades as a means of raising revenue for social programs, medical care and education.
Blackwell sees the value of that discussion, not to mention a re-examination of how much we are spending in lives and treasure on wars like the one in Afghanistan, the designated topic of this NATO summit.
“I sat at the afternoon session of Nobel Peace Prize winners” last week,” he said. “And the Dalai Lama and Mikhail Gorbachev were talking more radically than I ever have about what makes for peace, listing things like clean water, enough food, meaningful work.”
Peace, added the minister, also requires police protection and security.
But at what level?
That has been the question as protest groups seek meaningful spaces in which to demonstrate, while law enforcement agencies insist on perimeters wide enough to protect President Barack Obama and foreign dignitaries.
The free-speech struggle took an unexpected turn last week when even Chicago officials seemed caught off guard by the news that federal authorities would set up militarized “Red Zones” to protect federal buildings in advance of the summit.
It goes without saying that if world leaders and their entourages are not within sight or sound of the protests, those protests will be rendered meaningless.
It’s pretty hard to change the world unless somebody sees and hears you.