Suburban protesters converge on NATO summit
Teacher, war veteran among thousands expected
Roger Fraser is a retired elementary schoolteacher from Rolling Meadows who, with his wife, Pat, regularly participates in political events for a variety of causes. The 66-year-old said he is nowhere near a "bomb-throwing anarchist," but rather an average guy who happens to be very concerned about this country.
Fraser has been politically engaged for decades, participating in countless rallies and protests over the years in Chicago and the suburbs. This weekend, though, he'll participate in what he describes as the most exciting action yet: He'll stand with thousands of other protesters from across the country and the world to condemn the actions of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization during its 2012 summit in Chicago.
Fraser said he has never seen anything like the broad-based coalition of groups that has come together to oppose NATO -- which accounts for 70 percent of worldwide military spending, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute's military expenditure database.
"I'm just your ordinary gum-chewing citizen who is outraged that there's money to bail out banks, untold billions to give to the U.S. military for adventures overseas, but there's no money at all to help the families down the street with three or four kids who are going to be homeless within just a few weeks," Fraser said.
The North Atlantic Treaty was signed in 1949 by 11 European countries and the United States to pledge mutual defense in the case of an attack -- at the time, the concern was over aggression by the Soviet Union. Today there are 28 member countries in the alliance.
Protesters throughout the suburbs have been speaking out against NATO's current war policy -- especially concerning the Middle East.
Cameron Halas, 26, a history major at Harper College in Palatine, is an Iraq War veteran. He joined the Army in 2003 right after high school and served four years, one of them in Iraq.
Halas said he decided during his tour the military strategy was unethical and immoral. He went from being an enthusiastic supporter of the war effort after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to an anti-war protester.
"When they send us on a mission where the primary objective is expanding markets or to serve special interests or to basically make a rich man richer, it's very betraying," Halas said.
He plans to be in Chicago Sunday urging the country to stop killing people in the name of freedom.
Representatives of Iraq Veterans Against the War will be just one group at the protest.
Fraser most closely aligns himself with the Gay Liberation Network and plans to march Sunday in a contingent supporting Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of giving classified information to WikiLeaks. The Coalition Against NATO/G8 War and Poverty Agenda (CANG8) has become a somewhat centralized organizing group for the rally and march.
And Occupy Wall Street contingents from across the suburbs will join their activist peers -- like the group from Occupy Naperville, which will rally at 10 a.m. Sunday outside the Metra station, 105 E. 4th Ave., before catching the 10:33 train to Chicago.
Debbie Dudek, 57, spends almost every Saturday shouting into a bullhorn at the corner of Kimball Street and Grove Avenue in Elgin with the small but dedicated group from Occupy Elgin. Dudek had seeds of political engagement in her youth but got heavily involved in local activism in the last few years since the latest national health care debate began.
She has participated in Northern Illinois Jobs with Justice actions and Fox Valley Citizens for Peace and Justice rallies, and she's connected with others for political discussions on various topics at Wheaton's DuPage Coffee House and Naperville's Just Views group.
Dudek said the exciting thing about the NATO protest is the number of people expected.
"How many times have our little groups gone to something and there's only 20 people there?" Dudek said. "It feels good to be in solidarity with all these people."
Dudek just hopes the rally doesn't turn violent.
Patrick Maller of St. Charles is hesitant about participating in the protest precisely because of the potential for trouble. He has watched the steady arrest of peaceful protesters around the country and said he doesn't have enough money to deal with the consequences of an arrest on Sunday.
But Maller likely won't stay away from the action.
"I guess I have to go out there," Maller said. "It's a must."
To Fraser, all the attention on security measures for the summit is a tactic to discourage people to show up, especially families with children.
But the CANG8 website invites everyone to a "legal, permitted, family-friendly march and rally," starting at noon Sunday at the Petrillo Bandshell, at the corner of Jackson and Columbus drives in Chicago.
Speeches at the band shell will be followed by a march to McCormick Place, where the summit is taking place.
Especially in an election year, the Rolling Meadows man said, protesting is the right choice to make.
"If you're discouraged with the electoral process, with the choices that we have, then the place to be -- on May 20 at least -- is out in the streets, at our rally and marching," Fraser said. "That's what's going to put pressure on the administration, whether it's Republican or Democrat."