now in its one-hundred-and-eightieth year
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.