The morning after NATO

it's all over--and the South Loop has much to reflect on

05/22/2012 7:13 PM

By NATO Team

2 Comments - Add Your Comment

The Fine Arts Building at Congress and Michigan with some protection on Sumday morning

Listening to Polish Minister of Affairs Radoslaw Sikorski talk about NATO

Mayor Rahm Emanuel was over at the Roosevelt "L" station this morning shaking the hands of South Loopers. As well he should. We were the ones who hosted NATO, and we fielded the troublemakers he attracted. We gave up our streets, our Museum Campus museums--and turned over our hearts and minds. We deserve the kudos, the congrats, the thank-you notes.

But we got a lot of out of it, too--now that open streets, our general level of safety and security, the mailboxes and order are coming back. Not to mention the Metra. We saw the transformation of our streets turn into a rich man's lockdown--which was remarkable. The police were our neighbors, our guests, our protectors, our info-line.

I bet you dollars to donuts that not many residents outside of the South Loop actually thought about the meaning of NATO; should it stay or go? Is it a criminal enterprise of some sort, the military wing of the Military-Industrial Complex? Or a positive bonding of countries that are in it one for all and all for one?

I was thrilled when a friend and neighbor of mine who works for Boeing (of all places) invited me to a Chicago Council on Global Affairs lecture about "NATO After Afghanistan" Sunday morning at the Intercontinental Hotel, given by His Excellency Radoslaw Sikorski, Minister of Foreign Affairs in Poland. He said, among other things that "the United States investment in European security continues to make sense."

I knew when my friend invited me that that was where we South Loopers belonged on Sunday. Being part of NATO proper. The Reason? To complete the neighborhood picture this weekend. Just the walk over and back was a microcosm of the NATO summit. Lots of cops, a few board-ups and two South Loopers traipsing through it all.

All weekend I wondered where all the imported cops from other cities were. And if we would know them when we saw them. What would they be wearing? I finally saw some last night--but not in the South Loop. Cops from Philadelphia (in their own uniforms) were at Wacker and Wabash as NATO wound down and President Obama was well on his way to Joplin, Missouri. And some from Milwaukee were at Chestnut and Michigan. (By the way, the scene a block away in front of the Four Seasons--Hamid Karzai's home away from home--was remarkable. Tons of armored cars, Afghani body guards with cords streaming from their ears, Illinois State police and Chicago cops. The trunk of one of the cars remained open--and I figured that's probably where they put Karzai when they transport him: for full-blown safety.)

One of the most remarkable bits of communication I received during the Summit? Daily reminders from the Near South Planning Board, of all groups, who sent an exhaustive list of where the protesters would be every day, every hour, their agendas, meeting places, etc. Those emails had something for everyone. If you wanted to protest any or all, you knew where to go and who to see. If you wanted to stay far, far away, you also knew what to do. Unfortunately, I don't think I paid close enough attention on Saturday, because a group came by the house at Roosevelt and State--I found out--when I was elsewhere. Although it was apparently an impromptu visit. But I sure would have liked to see them saunter by with their signs and their riot police. What a picture. As far as I know, none of my friends had the presence of mind to snap a few.

Some of the things I did which I never would have, had not the NATO Summit been out my door? I listened online to a debate coming from the Pritzker Military Library (technically, I guess, in the South Loop at 104 S. Michigan) in which level heads on both sides discussed NATO, yay and nay. I downloaded some Rage Against the Machine tunes from iTunes. They provided music for the Nurses' protest (albeit not technically in the South Loop, but at Daley Plaza).

Yes, some South Loop restaurants lost business; some had to close early and some closed entirely. And some business owners just hung out and saw what happened. Some had to do weird things, aside from coat their windows to prevent protester breakage. For example, Jewel at Roosevelt and Wabash removed all its cart holders from its parking lot.

It's true--some South Loop residents were inconvenienced; we couldn't drive here, walk there. But every South Looper who didn't leave town has something special in their own experiential repertoire. We were with NATO, the first time an American city outside of Washington, DC hosted the (now) 28 countries who are members--and the 32 guest countries. We saw, we heard (oh the helicopters, the helicopters--and eventually the planes!!!) and we were there.

We were there among the out-of-the-ordinary. It was reported during the course of sprucing things up for the overseas visitors--in addition to finishing Congress Parkway--that the city made workers spray weed killer in the sidewalk cracks of the South Loop. Which I don't approve of. But I must say things were immaculately clean and orderly.

Bottom line: we were where it was at. Most of it I can't even describe. You just had to be there. And no, we weren't a ghost town, after all. There was life on these South Loop streets. But it was a different sort of life. Again, you just had to be here to understand it.

Perhaps the whole world wasn't watching. Or even all of Chicagoland. But we were. We had to. And I sure am thankful for that.

--Bonnie McGrath

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By paula
Posted: 05/24/2012 1:11 PM

Wonderful reporting Bonnie! Bravo! I have enjoyed every word, from your eyes to my ears. OK, my eyes via Facebook. But the 21st Century electronically connected global.... it was all very exciting and I could feel your enthusiasm. Had the summit not gone as seamlessly, well that would have been entirely another story. But a good time was had by almost all and I had a good time via Bonnie. Thank you

By Judy Marcus from Palatine
Posted: 05/22/2012 12:37 PM

Bonnie, thanks once again for all the rich details!