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Interview with Joe Iosbaker

All out for the protest at NATO/G8 Summit May 19

By staff |
February 19, 2012
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Joe Iosbaker speaking at press conference
Joe Iosbaker speaking at press conference (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Fight Back! interviews Joe Iosbaker, the Chicago spokesperson for the United Antiwar Coalition, on the protest that will coincide with the NATO/G8 Summit that is scheduled for May 19.

Fight Back!: Could you tell us about the protest planned for May 19?

Joe Iosbaker: In May, NATO and the G8 will meet in Chicago. NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) is the military alliance of the U.S. and its European allies. The G8 (Group of Eight) is a forum of the wealthiest countries in the world - Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

They meet on behalf of the 1% of the world, the rich and the powerful, the bankers and generals. Their agenda is to continue to impose austerity, or poverty, by cutting social spending for workers and the poor to maintain profitability for the rich and to launch more wars, such as Afghanistan and Libya, to stop the rise of the poor nations of the Third World.

Saturday, May 19 is the first day of their summits. At noon that day, the largest, most powerful protest against their wars and attacks on people will take place. Tens of thousands of people from Chicago, across the country and around the world will march to within sight and sound of the war makers.

When we march, the front banner will read: Jobs, Healthcare, Education, Pensions, Housing and the Environment, Not War!

Fight Back!: Who is supporting the protest?

Iosbaker: The Coalition Against NATO/G8 War & Poverty Agenda (CANG8) was initiated last summer by the United National Antiwar Coalition. It is a broad formation that includes labor unions, community groups, anti-war and international solidarity groups and faith based activists. One of the most prominent Muslim leaders in the country, Malik Mujahid of the Muslim Peace Coalition, spoke at the founding conference of CANG8, and said that the people who would organize such a march were, “… the hope of humanity.”

No doubt, most of the people who march on May 19 will be from Chicago and the Chicago-land area. At every meeting and event we have held since we started planning this, we have had local representatives of the immigrant rights movement, African American community groups, folks fighting against home foreclosures and leaders from the Chicago Teachers Union fighting to defend against attacks on their students, their schools and their jobs. Alejandro Molina of the National Boricua Human Rights Network was a founding member of CANG8 and has spoken of hundreds of youth from the Puerto Rican community learning about NATO and the G8 and then marching with us on May 19.

CANG8 got a boost at our founding conference from the movement to oppose FBI and grand jury repression. Many of those who came to the founding conference were from the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, formed to support activists like myself and my wife, Stephanie Weiner, whose home was raided by the FBI in 2010. The anti-war and international solidarity activists targeted by this witch hunt, including Carlos Montes of Los Angeles, will join the march on May 19 as well.

Fight Back!: You have been waging a battle with city government to get permits. Could you tell us about that?

Iosbaker: Since the summer, CANG8 took the lead fighting for permits for our May 19 rally in Daley Plaza in Chicago’s center, known as The Loop. We also demanded the right to march to McCormick Place, the meeting place of NATO and the G8. We made it clear that our march would be a family friendly event.

From the outset, the city responded with threats of mass arrests of protestors. The mayor, Chicago Police Department and the Secret Service delivered the message to the media and held secret meetings with every downtown college, church, cultural institution and business group saying the protests will lead to violence. After months of this fear mongering, the Chicago Chamber of Commerce urged downtown businesses to board up their stores and hire private security. The Secret Service announced that there would be snipers on the roofs of downtown office buildings.

As we pressed our demands, in November the city responded that there would be no permits granted for any protest during the summits. We were able to gather more support from our allies, including unions like SEIU Local 73, the United Electrical workers, and the Teachers Union, plus the union and community coalition, Stand Up Chicago; a petition signed by dozens of Christian and Islamic ministers; and the Occupy Chicago movement.

Then, in January, Mayor Emanuel responded to public opinion, which clearly supported our right to protest. The city granted permits to us for our rally and march directly to the site of the summits.

In the same breath that we were given our permits, however, we were told that the Secret Service could revoke them under the needs of this National Special Security Event. Our response is to continue to demand that Mayor Emanuel and Police Superintendent McCarthy cease talking about expected violence and mass arrests and we now have to also demand that the Obama administration and Janet Napolitano, Director of Homeland Security, which is over the Secret Service, leave our permits alone.

Fight Back!: What effect will the call from the occupy movement to come to Chicago have on the protest?

Iosbaker: When CANG8 met in August, we knew that the majority of the people in the U.S. were being hurt by the attacks coming down in the economic crisis, the bailouts for the rich and cutbacks for the rest of us. We knew that war is not in the interest of working people here, that the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Arabs and Muslims, and thousands of working class youth from the U.S. only benefited the same rich class that is attacking us. We predicted that when the people of Chicago learned about NATO and the G8, a gathering of all the bankers and all the war makers, they would march in their thousands and tens of thousands.

Two weeks after our conference, Occupy Wall Street began, and the movement against the 1% appeared to confirm our beliefs.

Occupy Chicago has faced repression by the same mayor who has threatened and vilified CANG8 and attempted to deny us permits. In October, Emanuel denied the Occupiers a park to camp in, arresting over 300 to punish them for participating in those protests.

Since then, Occupy Chicago and CANG8 have been working in close collaboration. We occupied city hall to demand encampment space for them and permits for May 19.
Then, Emanuel went further still, introducing ordinances in December to greatly restrict the right to protest, rewriting the current city language for permits for rallies and marches. Dubbed by Occupy Chicago, the “Sit Down and Shut Up” ordinances, the most egregious restrictions included the doubling of fines for arrests in protests; multiplying by 20 the fines for march permit violations; requiring marches and rallies to register all amplification and requiring that those applying for parade permits during the summits provide detailed information about the signs they planned to carry.

At first, aldermen and the media all agreed that no one would oppose Emanuel on this. But then, a major civil liberties fight erupted. In a joint statement published by CANG8 and Occupy Chicago on Jan. 18, we wrote:

“In response to the mayor's attack on civil liberties, the Coalition Against NATO/G8 War & Poverty Agenda (CANG8) joined together with Occupy Chicago and several unions to unite our efforts to defend civil liberties in Chicago. By last week, aldermen had felt so much pressure from constituents that they had to speak out.

“Emanuel then moved to withdraw first one, and then another, of the most criticized pieces. Protests continued to grow; Emanuel retreated further; the protests mounted and he retreated even further.

“Finally, a version was reached that the council opposition could vote for, hoping that the movement would not condemn them. The final version is still a significant attack on democratic rights; its passage is a defeat for our movement.

The mayor has not achieved his true objective, though. Emanuel looks at the new Chicago he has inherited, with protestors in so many places and he wants to put the genie back in the bottle. It’s not possible.”

Through this struggle, CANG8 and Occupy Chicago have become united in a common effort to protest the NATO/G8 summits.

Then last month, Adbusters published their call for the Occupy Movement to come to Chicago starting on May 1. We took this announcement as another confirmation that the protests in Chicago were going to become a national focus for the movement. Since then, hardly a day has gone by that we haven’t heard news of another town or college campus where people are making plans to come to stand with us.

Fight Back!: Any other points you want to make?

Iosbaker: Last year, the resistance to the unbridled attacks on working people in this country began in Madison, Wisconsin with the protests by the public employees for their right to unionization; the movement surged into a national movement when Occupy Wall Street emerged in New York in September and then that movement swept the country.

On May 19, Chicago will take our place among those centers of struggle when we unfurl our banners: “Jobs, Healthcare, Education, Pensions, Housing and the Environment, Not War! No to NATO/G-8 Warmakers! No to War and Austerity!”

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