Nurses' pre-NATO rally expected to draw thousands

Protestors plan to demonstrate in downtown Chicago on the eve of the NATO meeting, while police step up security

Published May 18, 2012 1:45PM (EDT)

CHICAGO (AP) — Thousands of nurses and other protesters planned to rally at a downtown Chicago plaza Friday ahead of a two-day NATO summit and as a prelude to a much larger demonstration expected this weekend.

Meanwhile, many office buildings in the usually bustling city were closed after workers were warned to stay home because of heightened security, snarled transportation and the possibility of unruly protests.

National Nurses United officials have said they expect about 2,000 nurses to attend Friday's rally, where they will call for a "Robin Hood" tax on financial institutions' transactions to offset cuts in social services, education and health care. City officials expect the rally to draw more than 5,000 because of a performance by former Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, an activist who has played at many Occupy events.

In a sign of the building tension, lawyers for protesters said Chicago police, with their guns drawn, raided an apartment building where activists were staying and arrested nine people on Wednesday night. The Chicago chapter of the National Lawyers Guild said officers broke down doors in the building in the South Side Bridgeport neighborhood and produced no warrants.

"The nine have absolutely no idea what they're being charged with because they were not engaged in any criminal activity at all," said guild attorney Sarah Gelsomino. "They're really very confused and very frightened."

The Chicago Police Department refused to comment. Gelsomino said a bond hearing was scheduled for noon Friday.

Chicago was originally going to host the G-8 economic summit too, and the nurses' rally was initially intended to coincide with that. But the G-8 summit was moved to Camp David, Md. Midwest Director Jan Rodolfo said the nurses decided to go forward with the rally in the hope that their message would reach a worldwide audience.

"What we really hope for is a large, festive, hopeful, constructive tone regarding the Robin Hood tax and that everyone in attendance feels like they're part of a moment in history," Rodolfo said. She said the movement has much more momentum in other countries and "we're hoping to put it on the map" in the U.S.

Early Friday, the U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command planned to hold training flights with F-16s and other military aircraft over downtown Chicago in preparation for securing the city's airspace during the summit. Other small protests, including one targeting climate change, are planned.

Scattered protests over the past week have been relatively small, including a march through the "Magnificent Mile" shopping district that drew about 100 people Thursday.

But the much larger nurses' rally will mark a ramp-up to Sunday's anti-NATO march by underscoring that money spent fighting wars means less money for health care, education and other social programs, said Andy Thayer, an organizer of the anti-NATO march. His group — Coalition Against the NATO/G8 War & Poverty Agenda — has been working to draw those connections ever since President Barack Obama moved the G-8 summit, potentially dampening enthusiasm for a Chicago demonstration.

"I think it's really going to be big ... with the nurses," Thayer said. "That is going to be the 99 percent staking itself against the 1 percent, drawing the connections between the war abroad and the war on working people here at home.

"They are the front-line caregivers ... and the nurses to their credit understand the connections between NATO, G8 and the deplorable state of health care in our country and are speaking out about it."

Estimates of how many might show up Sunday have varied widely, from a couple thousand to more than 10,000. Busloads of demonstrators from around the country have begun arriving in Chicago, though some who had planned to come, including from the Occupy movement, have said they're staying home or going to an area near Camp David instead.

But some activists are anticipating they'll be joined by many more people than expected.

"Chicago has a reputation for resisting," including a 2003 demonstration against the Iraq War that flooded downtown Chicago with 10,000 people, said one of Thursday's protesters, Salek Khalid, a 21-year-old student at Northwestern University. "I feel comfortable saying Chicago will live up to its reputation, hopefully peacefully."

Police and the Secret Service have taken no chances, as Obama and 50 heads of state begin arriving for the NATO summit, where leaders will discuss the war in Afghanistan and European missile defense.

Security is high on trains. Barricades and fences have been erected around landmark buildings. Streets are being closed. And world-class museums are shutting down.

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said Thursday that the protesters so far "have been very well behaved." He said he did not anticipate that the tenor of Friday's rally would be different, but that if it is, "We are going to carry through with what we said we were going to do. We're going to facilitate the rights of these individuals while preventing criminal actions."


Associated Press writer Jason Keyser contributed to this report.

By Tammy Webber

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