On The Streets of Chicago
A march protesting the NATO Summit, beginning with estimates of up to 10,000 people, ended in front of Chicago’s McCormick Place on May 22. Leading the march were a group of veterans from wars spanning the length of the past century hand in hand with Afghans for Peace.
Among them was Scott Olsen, who had been hit in the head with a tear gas canister and put in critical condition in Oakland in October 2011. Serving two tours of duty in Iraq, the Marine veteran was not only fired upon with a tear gas canister by the Oakland police while peacefully protesting, but when help arrived to assist him, a flash bang grenade was thrown on top of him and the street medics attempting to assist him.
Scott Olsen threw his medals back over the fence at McCormick Place with the words: “These medals once made me feel good about what I was doing, they made me feel like I was doing the right thing, and then I came back to reality. And I don’t want these anymore.”
The 25-year-old Olsen is among one of the many demonstrators who threw their medals back at NATO last Sunday. The purpose of the gesture was to show policymakers and NATO representatives the distaste that the veterans themselves had toward the organization sponsoring wars in the Middle East, and all over the world.
The veterans are not just fighting against the ongoing wars, but also against the lack of support they had when returning home. It was nothing short of a powerful moment in American history, with very little mass media coverage.
Shortly after Mr. Olsen, who was awarded a Global War on Terror Medal, Operation Iraqi Freedom Medal, National Defense Medal, and Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, tossed his medals back over the fence, police began to use pre-emptive force to contain the peaceful crowd.
There is a stark contrast between the war veterans peacefully demonstrating and the militant actions of the police moments later as the protesters gathered in support. While they were given a dispersal order, they were brutally beaten with batons as they attempted to exercise their First Amendment rights.
The street became a battlefield between armed riot police and unarmed civilians. Although not comparable to what the veterans witnessed in Iraq, the violent police force demonstrated – not only to the protesters, but also to the mass media and NATO leaders – a level of intensity rarely seen by the American public.
The Chicago Police Department did stay true to its agreement not to kettle and mass-arrest protesters throughout the weekend. Although 45 arrests were made last Sunday (May 22) alone, the rest of the weekend was relatively peaceful. Protesters were allowed to march in the street, and no chemical weapons were deployed.
The veterans portrayed a side of the American troops not usually seen by the public. This group of veterans changed their minds completely, from believing what they were fighting for to suddenly realizing that the War on Terror is a battle that really needs to be fought at home against their own government.