NATO Wraps Up, Seeds Scatters to the Wind
Two Weeks After NATO Comes to a Close, We Celebrate Our Successes and Strategize for the Work Ahead.
(This entry picks up where the last one ended — on the evening of the 20th.)
By this point in the “Chicago Spring” most of us on Team Kitchen seemed to be experiencing two simultaneous feelings. One of those feelings was sheer exhaustion – to a degree that elicited a sensation of operating on auto-pilot. The other feeling was one of efficiency, practice and execution. The lifting, planning, prepping, cleaning, delivery and serving became easier every day as we settled into our new space and got to know the city. Being on top of our game could not, however, make up for the holes in the logistical framework that were apparent once the weekend started. A hastily organized communications group, a less-than-ideally located convergence center and the difficulty of getting around a sprawling metropolis added layers of difficulty to what could have been an otherwise well attended and well fed mass mobilization.
The first day of the NATO summit, Sunday the 21st, started with a rally at Grant Park and ended with a march to McCormick Place. The event was organized by Iraq Veterans Against the War and the CANG8 coalition, two groups that we had been working with throughout the month. Going into the event we were under the impression that we would be serving food for 5000 people. So, for most of the day before and the morning of, we made all the beans, rice and salsa that we could transport. In the end we served between 1500 and 2000, far shy of the number we had planned. That all went with few hitches. That is, until we arrived and discovered that CANG8 had not made any effort to provide water for the roughly 5000 people on the march. So, Seeds of Peace in conjunction with Chicago Action Medical spent 3 hours in traffic picking up and delivering a pallet and a half of bottled water to the marchers while they were en route. It saved the day, to say the least.
Not to complain too much though: the organizers in Chicago did some amazing work given the circumstances. The real wild card were the 1000+ occupiers that were bussed in from all corners of the country, many arriving with no gear or food. Having little experience in mobilizations of this caliber, and lacking a directed message for the heads of NATO, the energy that weekend was overshadowed by out-of-towners and felt scattered, misdirected and generally misused. After the umpteenth march against the police it was apparent by Sunday evening that the effort to SHUT DOWN NATO had been certifiably unsuccessful. Bolstered by months of pre-washing by local media on the dangers of these protests, strong-arming by the city and a massive police mobilization, the message “END THE WAR AND POVERTY AGENDA” fell largely on deaf ears.
For those who attended, however, and those who payed attention from across the country and around the world, it was inspiring and successful in many other ways. There were numerous people that gained critical skills in networking, medical aid, food support and media. The medical infrastructure, organized by Chicago Action Medical, was well staffed and offered an array of free health services throughout the week. The Indymedia center, located just a few blocks from the kitchen, had cameras and eyes on the ground at all times and provided live-streaming and coverage of the events. As always, our pals with the National Lawyers Guild were everywhere, keeping an eye on police actions and helping the 75 or so folks that were arrested.
In the kitchen we worked around the clock to feed the seemingly endless actions and marches over the course of a two week period. When the last dinner bell rang we tallied about 10,000 free meals, from May Day, Spreading the Health Medic Conference, Peoples Summit, #Ochi foreclosure march, Rising Tide tar sands march, National Nurses United rally, Health Care march and rally, IVAW march, the Health and Wellness medic center, convergence center and finally the actions at the Boeing headquarters on Monday, May 21st. We were able to facilitate waves of eager volunteers to assist in feeding the masses, which, at times, seemed to be a double edged sword. During similar mobilizations in the past, Seeds of Peace would generally provide ONE large lunch or dinner for the day’s event. This time around we stretched ourselves a bit thin. There was often a wave of help in the morning, allowing us to prepare the day’s big meal with ease. The hard part was returning to find few to no volunteers, a mountain of dishes and a meal to prepare and deliver in three hours time.
With every mass action there are things that stand out, and that was certainly true in Chicago. One of the more salient aspects of our Chicago experience was the lack of police harassment (towards the kitchen, anyway). There was the usual monitoring, both seen and unseen, and one brief, intimidating attempt by the police to enter a house where many Seeds members were staying. We made it through unscathed, which is unfortunately not the case for three individuals who were targeted through police infiltration before the summit began, and who are now facing trumped up terrorism charges as serious as they are bogus. Another stand-out part of our experience was the difficulty in finding produce donations. The produce docks were less than fruitful, as it were, and we had to spend more money on produce, and food in general, than we would have otherwise.
In the past, Seeds of Peace has been more directly involved in setting up the necessary components of mass mobilizations. For our time in Chicago, however, putting together and maintaining a kitchen for food support was about the limit of our abilities. With some notable exceptions, the mobilizations in general were mediocre at best, counter-productive at worse. Was it worth the effort on our part? Well, if we thought it wasn’t then the “Chicago Spring” would have gone hungry. Providing this critical infrastructure, even if it is not fully recognized or appreciated, demonstrates for everyone involved that we can create support systems and have a direct impact on those who gather for justice, in all it’s forms.
An incomplete list of people and groups who helped make this possible: Layla, Jeffrie, Scott Mechanic, John P., Kelvin, Eric R., Mandy and Occupy Chicago, Ron and the Locked Out Collective, First Trinity Lutheran Church, Nancy the composter, Katie, Subway and Humboldt Park FNB, Peter, Gabe and Rogers Park FNB, Margo M., Katie T., Vermin Supreme!, Keith McHenry, Lisa F., Door to Door Organics, the Plant, Peoples Action Center, Equal Exchange, Once Again Nut Butters, Chicago Action Medical, Movement Resource Group and the fabulous folks at the Grand Manor. Thanks to everyone who made our time in Chicago a memorable one, even if I forgot to mention you!