night in Chicago was surreal . . . There was zero violence,
unconditional love, and peaceful pandemonium. I accidentally stepped
on some dude’s Jordans and he shook my hand . . . Cell phone lines
were so jammed that people couldn’t reach one another, but I was
far from alone. I must have wrapped my arms around 100 people . . . I
know – awesome.
I wrote those words nearly four years ago, on the day after Barack
Obama was elected to the White House. I hadn't voted for the Illinois
senator – my rule is to always support Ralph Nader if he's running
– but that night in Grant Park pumped me full of American pride.
Despite my critical coverage of Obama leading up to that evening, it
was nice to feel enthusiastic about my big box store-of-a-country.
All of that's changed in the past four years. Not just for me, but
for countless others who were relieved to avoid an inevitably hawkish
John McCain presidency. I realized this on Sunday in Grant Park,
where the Veterans for Peace organized the biggest anti-NATO march of
the week. In 2008, I was moved to tears of joy in that big open
field. Yesterday I nearly cried out of despair.
Despite the vagueness that Occupy is often pegged with, nearly
everyone involved in the movement has specific concerns. Some, like
healthcare or homelessness, are personal, yet reflect larger issues
that transcend communities and cross state lines. Others have more
direct political gripes; an Occupier from Montana, for example, told
me about the struggle to protect his city's water supply from
Certainly Obama's not solely responsible for monsters whose attempts
to control common resources are increasingly compromising basic
freedoms. Nor was he in command when our military invaded Iraq and
Afghanistan. Still he represented a shift away from spending
trillions on murder, and from economic policies that perpetuate
poverty. That's no longer the case.
Nations fall a lot harder when they're pumped full of hope. Which is
why I found myself in Chicago following around thousands of damaged
Americans. Despite ideal weather and humorous costumes, the mood was
dark, as rally-goers unloaded aggravation over everything from
immigration policy and military misconduct to the neglect of mentally
ill patients and the persecution of political prisoners.
And then there was the violence. While Obama was tossing a football
around with fellow world leaders at Soldier Field, soldiers in the
streets were facing a Chicago Police Department bent on using
extraordinary force. Decked in protective gear, cops set arbitrary
boundaries for protesters, and pummeled them with inhumane pride when
those lines were crossed.
election night in 2008, I never would have thought that I'd return
here under such circumstances. Or that, despite its brutal history,
the city which I found so inviting would threaten its own residents
and visitors with weapons built for international combat. Back then,
Obama even walked the picket line with workers from the Congress
Plaza Hotel, who have been striking for nearly a decade.
At a rally outside of the president's campaign headquarters today,
demonstrators voiced their concerns with the administration, and with
its embrace of NATO-sponsored warmongering. Arguing that Obama's even
worse than his predecessor on the “3-Ds” – drones, drugs, and
deportation – one woman charged: “20 years ago you would have
been out here with us, but now you're part of the problem.”
Protesters challenged the former community organizer to return to his
progressive roots. That's not likely though. Back at my crash pad, I
caught the president's NATO press conference, in which a local
reporter asked about the protests outside, and about how police
handled things. Obama said they did a “great job,” and even
thanked those who were inconvenienced for their patience.
hundreds were still rallying outside of his nearby campaign office,
which is located just steps away from where I watched Obama give his
victory speech in 2008. At the time, I scribbled in my notebook that
I have faith in this guy. No doubt he’ll prove me stupid as soon
as he arrives in office, but it’s a tremendous feeling for the time
being. I've never felt sadder to have been so right.