Intelligence Report: May Day marks unofficial start of NATO protests

May 1, 2012 4:56:50 AM PDT
The start of the NATO summit in Chicago is about three weeks away. In this Intelligence Report: Why Tuesday, May 1, is considered the unofficial start of the protest against NATO.

Tuesday is May 1, May Day, always a big demonstration day anyway. Across the country, protest groups plan civil disobedience from the Golden Gate Bridge to Wall Street.

In Chicago, this year, May Day takes on new significance. It is considered by police and protesters to be the beginning of the ramp up to the NATO summit, even though the summit itself doesn't start until May 20.

On the eve of May Day, a collection of noisy demonstrators sits in at City Hall, outside the mayor's office, protesting the planned closure of three more mental health facilities. Protest organizers say Tuesday they will be joined on Loop streets by others -- some claim as many as 50,000 -- to kick-off nearly a month of demonstrations timed to reach a crescendo when NATO delegates are in town the weekend of May 19.

Also Tuesday, it is no coincidence that the so-called red-zone will begin. Federal law enforcement officers, many wearing specialized outfits and carrying special gear, will start patrolling several city blocks that house government offices and where thousands of government employees work.

At a City Club luncheon Monday, Chicago's host committee played up the economic impact of the coming NATO summit, releasing a study that pegged summit benefits to the city at more than $125 million.

But there are questions about an influx of potentially violent protesters and street clashes nagging at organizers.

"I think we all agree that everyone is prepared for that, and we will have the opportunity to put Chicago's best foot forward over the summit," said NATO host committee's Lori Healey.

In this official forecast of the summit's dollar value to Chicago, one line sums up the thin ice on which authorities know they are walking: "Protests or other unscheduled disruptions may also occur, which could result in mixed media attention."