When you hold a protest that draws activists and journalists from all over the world, it’s going to attract everyone who wants to protest anything.
The first sign I saw as I walked west on Randolph Street, in tandem with the National Nurses United march was held by a homeless man, making the most elemental complaint of all.
“I’M JUST HUNGRY!” it said.
One of the mob police officers standing on the corner of Randolph and Dearborn handed the man a Burger King bag. One protester satisfied.
As the march entered Daley Plaza, I saw a man wearing a hat reading DAD, and blowing a whistle. His t-shirt spelled out his grievance: FEDERAL BUREAU OF INTIMIDATE U.S.A. NO CHILD VISITATION SINCE ’06. That’s a problem a beat cop can’t solve. He’ll have to talk to a judge.
The nurses were dressed in red t-shirts and green felt Robin Hood caps, to promote the “Robin Hood Tax” on financial transactions. Now, no one has more credibility than a nurse, but their protest looked even more credible in comparison to the fringy characters it attracted: a 50-year-old guy with tattoos on his face, the usual Socialists handing out newspapers, and red-faced man screaming “Why do the doctors and the nurses say it’s OK to dump chemicals into Lake Michigan? It gives us cancer. The doctors want to treat cancer, they don’t want to prevent it!” A couple wearing Cubs jerseys, to protest excessive government spending.
Onstage, a dance line of nurses was swaying to “Dancin’ In The Streets,” and substituting lyrics written for the NATO summit: “NATO’s here and the time is right for taxing Wall Street. This is an invitation to every nation, a chance to make ends meet.”
The rally was a regular variety show. The song was follow by a skit in which actors portrayed the G-8 heads of state playing poker. Angela Merkel gambled “the future of the youth of Europe,” while Vladimir Putin bet “all of Russia. We have timber, we have oil.” The game was stopped by nurses in full Robin Hood costume, who capered onstage chanting, “We can create a better economy, with money for education. Loans that won’t bankrupt students. What we need to do is create a G-8 that works for all the people.”
Meanwhile, a helicopter whirled overhead. On the Picasso statue, someone had affixed a sticker reading “TTFRA -- Tax The F------ Rich Already.” The group Seeds for Peace was ladling out free bean salad and potato salad at a mobile lunch line.
The rally’s main attraction, of course, was former Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello. The city tried to cancel the event’s when Morello was added to the bill. But there he was, in Daley Plaza. Morello was introduced by Tom Hayden. As one of the four surviving member of the Chicago 7, who were put on trial for demonstrating at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Hayden is a link between the anti-war movement.
Morello introduced himself as “the other Harvard graduate with a Kenyan father in Chicago this weekend.” Then he said, “how ludicrous of the mayor’s office to say I would do anything to hurt Chicago. I grew up in Libertyville, Illinois, and Chicago is my favorite city in the world. I’ve been speaking my mind and playing in Chicago for 20 years. I know damn well I’m welcome in Chicago. You know who’s not welcome? G8. I’m the Nightwatchman, and this is a one-man revolution.”
Morello played his own “One Man Revolution,” followed by “The Ghost of Tom Joad” by Bruce Springsteen, “the only boss worth listening to.” The crowd was singing along to “This Land Is Your Land” when I left to write this post. It was a peaceful lunchtime concert, especially compared to what came next.
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