Your NATO/G8 primer | Feature | Chicago Reader

Your NATO/G8 primer 

Everything you wanted to know about hosting international summits but were afraid to ask

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On January 26, the activist organization Adbusters, which helped spark the Occupy Wall Street movement, called for at least 50,000 "redeemers, rebels and radicals" to visit Chicago in the month of May for "the biggest multinational occupation of a summit meeting the world has ever seen."

"And if they don't listen," the statement vowed, "we'll flashmob the streets, shut down stock exchanges, campuses, corporate headquarters and cities across the globe."

It's not known how many demonstrators will respond to the call. But there's little question that thousands of out-of-town visitors will descend on the city to attend, observe, and protest two scheduled summits of the most powerful leaders in the world.

What is in question is how it will impact—and what it will cost—the people of Chicago.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel used his clout with President Barack Obama to bring the NATO and G8 summits here, and the way the preparations are proceeding says a lot about how he runs this town.

Just three months before the events, neither residents nor the City Council have been told how much it could cost us. And some police officers are so concerned about what could happen that they're ordering their own riot-intervention equipment.

What follows is a primer on how we got into this mess, what we know about the summits, and—more significantly—what we don't.

So start at the beginning— what is this all about?

For three days in May, Chicago will play host to two international summits of diplomats, world leaders, and other dignitaries. Leaders of the Group of Eight—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—will meet from Saturday, May 19, to Sunday, May 20. And on May 20 and 21 the leaders of NATO will gather. Both summits will be held at McCormick Place.

Roughly 7,500 delegates representing 80 delegations will attend, plus about 2,500 journalists—and all those protesters.

And why are they coming to Chicago again?

Officially, President Obama decided that Chicago was a "logical choice" because it's "a global city, connected to the global economy, with an increasing international profile," according to Caitlin Hayden, assistant press secretary for foreign affairs. "It's the President's home town and has a proven record of managing big events. We know that Chicago will highlight the best of America."

So this decision was made completely free of politics, right?

Well . . .

Unofficially, Mayor Rahm Emanuel really, really, really wanted the summits to come here. As he's told his aides: it's like the Olympics—only easier to get.

So he was badgering the president, Vice President Joe Biden, and other administration officials about bringing the summit here almost from the moment he won the mayoral election last February. And maybe before.

OK, but did anyone other than Mayor Emanuel really, really, really want to hold the summits in Chicago?

No. Unlike the prospect of hosting the Olympics, which always had some support, the summits weren't on the radar—until President Obama offhandedly announced in a speech last June that they were coming to Chicago.

But surely there was some sort of bring-the-summits-to-Chicago blue ribbon committee—you know, filled with the mayor's friends and donors?

Not until the deal was already made. More on those friends and donors in a bit.

So did I miss the dog-and-pony community hearings they held to explain why this is worth the cost and inconvenience—you know, like they did with the Olympics?

You didn't, because there weren't any. As Leslie Hairston sums it up: "This wasn't a citywide decision."

Who's Leslie Hairston?

She's the alderman of the Fifth Ward who, like the rest of her colleagues, generally goes along with the mayor. But last month she really pissed him off by leading a handful of powerless aldermen in opposing the summits.

So what has the mayor said about her criticism?

If you don't like it, Hairston, then fuck you!

No, I mean, what has he said that he hasn't said to critics before?

On the record, he said, "This will be an opportunity to showcase what is great about the greatest city in the greatest country." We're pretty sure he was referring to Chicago—and not his hometown of Wilmette.

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