Continental Chicago

now in its one-hundred-and-eightieth year

The NATO Getaway

An oak sprouting out of the sand of New Buffalo beach (author photo)

My husband and I are among the lucky ones at liberty to flee Chicago in advance of the NATO summit.  For months now, I’ve been doing nothing but writing, keeping up with my social duties, and following politics and the markets.  By mid-week, I was suddenly feeling that the whirling gyre of international politics, modern interconnectedness, and international finance were beginning to take a toll on me.  We got in the car and sped away from the city and the abnormality that will grip the city center until Tuesday.

We climbed the steps to the house where quiet is king.  In New Buffalo, on the far shore of Lake Michigan, I can expect to find peace and some perspective on all that’s happening.  Part of my burden is purely personal: grief over the loss of a favorite great-aunt and anxiety over my father’s recent hospitalization and surgery.  News still reaches us here, filtering into a setting where the dominant features are the trees, the sky, the lake; the changing light.

Across the lake, an unwieldy confluence of global authority and protest is occurring in a space normally reserved for us, for the ordinary.  Preparations for a global summit are extraordinary.  They generate antagonism and express fear.

The security protocols now considered de rigueur for the protection of heads of state spell disruption for Chicagoans’ everyday rituals, the suspension of rights and freedoms that we normally enjoy.  Major traffic arteries are closed, sometimes just for dignitaries’ motorcades; Metra passengers must comply with special requirements regarding what kinds of bags they may travel with on trains; and residents living within the security perimeter around McCormick Place have been told their mailboxes and mail may disappear for a few days.  Burnham Harbor has been kept empty of boats.  Oh, and don’t fly anywhere near McCormick Place, or you’ll be shot down.

The museums closest to the action—the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, and Adler Planetarium—are closed for three days.  In what may be the most bizarre arrangement to emerge from all the traffic and security restrictions, aquarium staff in charge of feeding the fish are camping out around the facility so that they can fulfill their duties and the fish won’t die.

Meanwhile, protesters have flocked in from all over.   As much as a constitutional right, protest is a sort of performance.  It may not be efficacious, but it’s a tradition, one best staged before a concentrated media.  Summit participants are insulated from protesters; those chiefly exposed are Chicago police, who, for all their sins, do not deserve to be pelted with pies or urine.  Some of the protest has little to do with NATO, but the summit is a good venue for discontent, of which there is plenty.

Sometimes staying away from the theater is a good thing.  For me, at present, it’s better to be here, listening to the birds singing in the dark, or lying on sandy beach at night looking up at the stars.

8 comments on “The NATO Getaway

  1. Pingback: The Political History of a Garden « Our Polity

  2. sam dune
    May 21, 2012

    A nice easy article. I had no idea that the city center was in a kind of lock-down mode. Too bad. What a mess it must be to have major streets and highways closed……..As for the police (I personally don’t believe they have too many “sins” ), they find themselves on the frontline of what must be a very tough situation. I hope that they can keep their cool. If I have been reading correctly, it seems that much of the focus was/has been on what occurred in 1968 during the Democratic convention. Silly to compare these two totally different events and times.

    • Susan Barsy
      May 22, 2012

      Sam–Good to hear from you. There was a lot of free-floating anxiety about the summit, and it has been odd to see how 1968 keeps coming up. What happened then should not loom so large in the public consciousness now. The media seems intent on keeping that distant memory alive, as though to let go of it would mess with their heads and their ingrained sense of Chicago’s inferiority–something that many of us do not feel with them.

  3. Pingback: NATO show begins today with summit, protests – Chicago Sun-Times « Ye Olde Soapbox

  4. Joe
    May 20, 2012

    Hi Susan…..I know New Buffalo well…….a different world yet so close. I go to Sauagatuck often which is 150 miles from my place. I love it there…….Oval Beach, Lake Michigan…….a world away from the city.
    It is very quiet in my neighborhood (Lake View)….kind of like the old days before all the “cool” people and condos were built…..enjoy your time in NB…….regards, Joe

    • Susan Barsy
      May 20, 2012

      Joe–Michigan has been a revelation to me–so laid back and a place of such great natural beauty. Friends tell me that it is very quiet on the city’s north side. . . . I imagine that many people are watching the city series from home. . . . (Go Sox). SB

  5. ChicagoRanter
    May 20, 2012

    I’m peacing outta the city too. The whole thing is over nothing really. If NATO was that secretive and that important, it would be at Camp David with the G8. The whole thing is a political game. And I’m not playing it. We shouldn’t be addressing their influence and giving them power; the real trouble for them is when nobody is protesting.

    • Susan Barsy
      May 20, 2012

      Indifference would be a blow to NATO’s prestige, but the thing that will probably grind it down is tightening the purse-strings, which has already occurred in most of the other member countries. Protest is not going to change a thing about the alliance or the constellation of political forces in the US that keep it going. I wish it were otherwise. But as it is, the protesters might just as well be out fossil-hunting today. Thanks for tuning in and sharing. SB

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