I don’t make a habit of going to these things.
As Chicago braced itself for road closures, heightened security and masses of protesters surrounding the NATO summit, I reflected on why I wanted to march in this protest, at this particular moment in time. I’m a Christian feminist who’s been accused of being liberal on more than one occasion, but this just seemed so radical. And for what purpose? My reasons, I realized, had everything to do with my faith.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is a military alliance of 28 nations in North America and Europe. Formed after World War II, NATO employs a strategy of collective defense, which means that an attack on one member is treated as an attack on all. Such was the case after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, at which time NATO engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The United States is spending $115 billion on conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan this year, on top of the Department of Defense budget of over half a trillion dollars. Critics generally argue that NATO has outlived its original purpose and should disband, and that its collective defense strategy is little more than “might makes right.”
The day before the march I wrote down about 20 reasons I protest NATO. Here are just a few. Like more than 70% of Americans, I disapprove of the war in Afghanistan; I believe that the financial costs of unjust wars weigh heavily on all of us; I protest as an expression of my Christian faith, which takes into account Jesus’s radical commitment to justice.
As I joined with thousands of other protesters for a rally at noon Sunday, I realized that our reasons for resisting NATO were numerous, some even in conflict with one another. I saw posters for three different presidential candidates. I heard people disagree about when and how to end the wars. Some people want social reform, others want complete overhaul. These discussions were peaceful and even fruitful for most of the day. As I walked through the streets of Chicago, clapping and chanting, I saw these differences as a strength, not a weakness. During a chant of “Stop the war! Feed the poor!” I shouted these words as a prayer. Keep our soldiers safe. Bring justice to the children living in a war zone. Help the people hurting here at home.
The march ended at Cermak and Michigan Avenue, just a few blocks from the site of the NATO summit. This was as far as the demonstration was permitted to go. White flags bearing doves and the words “Veterans for Peace” flew as it was announced over a loudspeaker that Iraq war veterans would be returning their medals of honor in protest. However, my two friends and I grew uneasy as soon as the crowd stopped moving. With nowhere to go, spaces got tighter and the ever-present rows of police, who had been walking right alongside us, were now reinforced by officers in riot gear. At this final stop of the march, the news cameras were on. With a gut feeling and a train to catch, we decided to leave. A peaceful march was what we came for, and it was what we got. We decided there was nothing else to gain, no greater message to spread. After four peaceful hours of rallying and marching we headed down an empty street at 4 p.m., passing literally hundreds more officers on the way.
Our anxiety was well-founded, because by 4:45 the scene back at Cermak and Michigan had turned ugly. When I got home at 6 p.m., I was dismayed to see live television coverage of police clashing with just a few dozen remaining demonstrators. To me, this was pointless hijacking of a peaceful, tremendously meaningful day by a group representing less than one tenth of one percent of the original crowd. Where were the live cameras when the officers returned their medals? Where were they when environmentalists, feminists and other peacemakers shared ideas about a better future?
Justice is comprised of acts big and small, and God is never short on ideas. In the pursuit of a better world, we’re going to disagree about how to get there. Some Christians will judge me for marching at all, while others will judge me for leaving too soon. I don’t think everyone must share my politics, nor do I believe that social justice necessarily demands participation in a mass demonstration like this one. How we enact justice is between us and God, but act we must.
What Do You Think?
- Have you ever participated in a protest or demonstration?
- How should Christians use such tools for justice?
- What should Christians make of NATO?