A summit to represent us

May 15, 2012

Eric Kerl reports on the People's Summit--an event designed to provide an alternative vision to the upcoming NATO summit in Chicago.

MORE THAN 800 activists from the U.S., Europe and the Middle East gathered in Chicago for the People's Summit over the May 12-13 weekend to kick off a week of action before the summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) planned for May 20-21.

During the summit, government leaders will review their plans for maintaining control of war-torn Afghanistan, Africa and Kosovo; dramatically increasing weapon deployments in allied countries; and implementing new surveillance technologies under the American-led "war on terror."

Initially, the Group of Eight (G8) club of the world's dominant countries planned to host its summit in Chicago at the same time as NATO, but the venue was abruptly changed to Camp David in early March. The stated reason was to provide a more "intimate" setting, in the words of Obama's National Security Office. But the real motivation certainly included avoiding a significant mobilization against the program of austerity in the service of corporate greed.

The People's Summit was hosted by Occupy Chicago and the Coalition Against NATO and G8 War and Poverty Agenda (CANG8) at Occupy Chicago's headquarters--an early 19th-century warehouse a few miles from the location of the NATO summit a week later.

Hundreds attend a plenary discussion at the People's Summit in Chicago
Hundreds attend a plenary discussion at the People's Summit in Chicago

Activists planned the People's Summit to educate larger numbers about the G8 and NATO, and to mobilize for a mass march during the opening of the NATO summit on May 20--as well as a week of activities in between, with each day devoted to a different theme, ranging from education to immigrant rights to housing and homelessness and more.

THE CONTENT of the People's Summit wasn't limited to critical analysis of the 1 percent's global agenda. The more than 40 workshops and four plenary sessions offered an alternative vision of a world based on peace, justice and equality.

The summit featured voices from occupied Afghanistan who debunked the misconception, perpetuated by the Obama administration, that the war is "coming to an end."

Malalai Joya--an antiwar activist, former member of Afghanistan's parliament and a fierce critic of NATO's occupation as well as the Taliban and the current warlord government headed by the U.S. puppet President Hamid Karzai--was unable to travel for health reasons, but sent a statement to the People's Summit:

[Obama and Karzai] claim the war will end in 2014, while on the other hand, they say that U.S. troops will remain in some capacity until 2024. My friends, when 2024 comes closer, they will say they plan to remain in Afghanistan until 2034. The reality is that the U.S. and their NATO allies plan to dominate Afghanistan and the larger region militarily for the next generation...

Do not believe the words of Obama and others who say they are working for peace even while they continue to make war and to kill our people in bombings, night raids a,nd now more and more drone attacks that kill civilians every week and sometimes every day in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries.

Suraia Sahar, a member of Afghans for Peace based in Toronto, read Joya's statement to the summit and also spoke on the closing plenary about the moving struggle of Afghan youth. She read a statement from Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers that addressed their efforts to overcome divisions foisted on them in order to retake control of their country.

The Summit also addressed the connection between war spending abroad and the drive to impose austerity on the 99 percent at home.

Jerome Fuller, a Chicago transit worker and member of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 241, and Jan Rodolfo, Midwest organizing director for National Nurses United, talked about the urgent need for the labor movement to stop pleading and start fighting.

In stating their defense of public-sector unions, both stressed that stronger wages and benefits for public workers are important in setting a standard that other workers should likewise demand, and that their efforts are also essential to a defense of decent social services for working-class people generally.

Abdul Malik Mujahid, a leader of the Muslim Peace Coalition, described how Arabs and Muslims in the U.S. have been targeted, harassed, detained, deported and scapegoated in the wake of the U.S. wars and occupations in the Middle East and Central Asia. He explained in chilling detail the everyday harassment that millions of Arabs and Muslims in the U.S. have faced, as well as his own personal experience of hours upon hours spent answering questions of law enforcement agents, simply because of his Muslim faith.

Political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal also addressed the conference live via speakerphone from a prison in Pennsylvania. He electrified the crowd with a stirring call to abolish NATO and his analysis of NATO's aggressive and destructive military campaigns from Kosovo to Afghanistan to Libya.

THE PEOPLE'S Summit served to bring together activists from a number of social movements--Occupy activists, antiwar and antiracist activists, trade unionists and independent journalists, environmentalists, defenders of civil liberties and Palestine solidarity activists, among others. Members of the United National Antiwar Coalition, National Nurses United, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and Occupy activists from around the country participated during the weekend.

International activists also made their way to the People's Summit, including Reiner Braun and Elsa Rassback from Germany and a number of activists from several countries, including the Philippines, Sweden, Ireland, Canada, Palestine and Puerto Rico.

Among the 40 different workshops were sessions on "Public-sector unions and the fight against austerity," "Consent and gender liberation," "The post-911 targeting of Mulims" and "Obama's new imperialism."

One activist, Taylor Bradley, a 22-year-old from Louisville, Ky., said the summit represented a new stage for the Occupy movement. "I was a student at the University of Louisville, but I dropped out to be a full-time activist with Occupy," said Bradley. "After a while, things started to fall apart--fewer people at assemblies and actions...But now, there's a greater awareness of the connections with different movements, and more serious people putting together things like this."

While opposition to NATO was the theme of the People's Summit, there was a clear anti-capitalist perspective among many summit-goers. The Occupy movement has certainly cleared the way for a biting critique of an economic system that only benefits the few. The People's Summit helped to make the connection between this economic system and the drive by the American military to dominate the world.

The closing plenary of the People's Summit ended with a stirring call by Joe Lombardo of the United National Antiwar Coalition to mobilize for the May 20 march against the NATO summit.

Joya perhaps best captured this message at the conclusion of her statement:

I and millions of other Afghans are with you in heart and in spirit. On May 20, peace-loving people in every country of the world will be watching you in Chicago and wishing you solidarity. In the long run, our desire for true justice and democracy will defeat all of NATO's guns and bombs. Long live peace and freedom!

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