Veterans plan to march during NATO summit

May 10, 2012 4:29:41 PM PDT
As the NATO leaders begin their meetings Sunday afternoon on May 20, one large permitted march of protesters will walk toward McCormick Place.

Organizers have decided that march will be led by a group of veterans who intend in symbolic fashion to register their objections to NATO and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The May Day march to Federal Plaza numbered roughly 1,000 people. The permitted main march NATO Sunday is expected to be much larger. No one can say with certainty how many protesters will be part of it, but without question their causes will be many, and each day next week will carry a theme.

"We have these days of action that highlight education, immigration, foreclosure, the environment," said Zoe Sigman, Occupy Chicago.

Amidst those varied causes is one that organizers believe should be given center stage in the main march Sunday afternoon.

"I believe the new mission of winning the hearts and minds was not effective. We have failed that mission," said Alejandro Villatoro.

Villatoro is an Army Veteran who was part of the surge into Afghanistan two years ago. Seven years prior to that, he did a tour in Iraq. Both efforts he believes were misguided or mishandled and have burdened returning vets with abundant mental health issues and a high suicide rate.

Villatoro will be among a number of vets - perhaps three dozen or more - who plan to protest the war by returning the NATO ribbons they received for being in theater.

"It'll be a peaceful march," he said. "All we want is for our voices to be heard, and listen to the veterans and what we have to say."

The march with the veterans leading is to end up at the intersection of Michigan and Cermack, a block west of the perimeter around McCormick place.

"We'll have an American flag there," said Aaron Hughes, Iraq Veterans Against the War. "We'll lower the American flag and play taps."

The vets are planning speeches and a ceremony at parade's end. The unanswered question is how the city intends to handle that gathering.

The vets have asked that someone formally receive their medals, and if not, they may choose to do what hundreds of Vietnam vets did four decades ago when they threw their medals over barricades outside the capital.

"Similar to how we are being barricaded out of these meetings and our voice is not going to be heard, we are considering throwing our medals over those barricades," said Hughes.

So, what will be allowed at parade's end at Cermack and Michigan? Will there be speeches? Will there be a stage and speakers? How long will the crowd be allowed to stay? When their two-hour-15-minute parade permit limit is up, are they told to leave?

The city and march organizers, along with the ACLU, are talking, presumably negotiating. But they're not talking publicly yet. All sides say their lips are sealed until Monday.

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