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Interview with NATO protest organizer Joe Iosbaker

By staff

“The people are more powerful than the cops, the mayor, or NATO”

Fight Back! interviews Joe Iosbaker, the Chicago spokesperson for the United National Antiwar Coalition and a leader in the Coalition Against NATO/G8 War and Poverty Agenda, on the massive May 20 protest at the NATO Summit. Fight Back!: Please talk some about what happened at the march on the NATO Summit and who was there. Joe Iosbaker: 15,000 people rallied and marched against the war makers’ summit on a scorching hot day here in Chicago. It was a very broad gathering, involving the Iraq Veterans Against the War, National Nurses United and the Reverend Jesse Jackson. We had music by Tom Morello, Rebel Diaz, David Rovics and Outer National. Carlos Montes came from Los Angeles, straight from the political persecution trial he is facing. Students came from Utah, Florida and all over the Midwest.

There were over 40 speakers. We had leaders of the anti-war movement in the U.S., Germany and Mexico. Representatives spoke from the movements of various oppressed nationalities: Filipinos, Palestinians, Puerto Ricans, and African Americans, including a taped message from Mumia Abu Jamal. They came from the immigrant rights movement; from the Muslim community and from among faith based activists, environmentalists, and LGBTQ activists. We had Afghans and Pakistanis. We had trade unionists, and of course, the Occupy movement.

After we rallied in the park, we then marched almost three miles to the location of the summit, McCormick Place. There 40 veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars mounted a stage and one by one, returned the medals they had been given for their service in the U.S. military. The young men and women all swore they wouldn’t fight again in wars for profit under NATO or U.S. flags. The bitterness expressed by the vets was the most moving part of the day.

Fight Back!: What was the political message of the protest? Iosbaker: The message had two parts to it: against war and against the attacks by the rich on the rest of us.

This was expressed in several ways. We raised several slogans, “Jobs, Housing, Healthcare, Education, Our Pensions, the Environment, Not War!” “No to NATO War makers! No to War and Austerity!” These slogans showed first, that we were marching against the wars by NATO and the U.S. against the people of Afghanistan, Libya and Pakistan, and threatening against Syria. And second, we know that the trillions that are spent on war could go toward meeting the needs of poor and working people at home.

But we also raised one other idea. Last summer, the United National Antiwar Coalition called for this protest and organized a meeting to form a broader group. We called the new formation the Coalition Against NATO/G8 War and Poverty Agenda because initially NATO and the Group of Eight – a meeting of the wealthiest countries – were to both meet here. The G8 conference includes the central bankers from those rich nations, who are responsible above all for the economic crisis that struck in 2008. When they were in trouble, they were bailed out with trillions from taxpayers in each of those countries. But the workers who are losing homes can’t get a bailout. When we lose jobs because factories close, we can’t get a bailout. We got sold out, and we made that part of our message as well.

Fight Back!: Could you say a few words about the Chicago Principles? Iosbaker: There are many forces that oppose NATO, including some that are willing to march, others who want to link arms and be arrested and others who want to challenge the authorities, including the police, more directly. For example, there were hundreds of people who refused to leave the intersection after the end of our permitted rally and march.

We adopted the same principles that have been used at many major protests in the U.S. since the 2008 Republican National Convention in Saint Paul, Minnesota. They are an agreement that all those forces respect the other groups, despite tactical differences; that we won’t criticize each other to the corporate media; and that if one group is attacked, as the mostly youth crowd was when the Chicago and Illinois cops beat 60 of them bloody after our march ended, that we’ll put the blame where it belongs: on the police, the city of Chicago and on NATO for bringing this violence here.

Fight Back!: A large contingent marched against repression. Tell us about that. Iosbaker: The most visible face at the protest was Carlos Montes. His image was on over 100 shirts, and 100 more posters. A contingent organized by the Committee to Stop FBI Repression had hundreds marching with it, including Filipinos, Palestinians and Puerto Ricans, all chanting, “Free Carlos Montes, drop the charges now!”

Montes is on trial in Los Angeles, facing up to 12 years in prison for his lifelong political activism. Carlos was raided by the FBI and L.A. sheriff SWAT last May. The FBI and the district attorney there are accusing Carlos of being a criminal. Their pretext is a 43-year old charge against him from a protest for Chicano studies at a college in East Los Angeles. As one of the Brown Berets, a youth group that he helped to start, in this protest Carlos was singled out for a felony charge for throwing an empty soda can at a cop. This was eventually settled as a misdemeanor. Now the FBI has dug this up, claim he was convicted of a felony, and since Carlos owns a shot gun and a hand gun, they want to imprison him for violation of California firearms code.

However, a L.A. Deputy Sheriff admitted that the FBI instigated the case in an investigation of Carlos’s anti-war activism. In fact, the attack on him stems from the case of the 23 anti-war activists, including my wife, Stephanie Weiner and myself. We were raided by the FBI in September 2010, and are still being pursued by the U.S. Attorney in Chicago for our anti-war activism. All of us are being targeted because we took the side of the people of Palestine and Colombia against the brutal, U.S.-backed governments of Colombia and Israel.

Fight Back!: What is the story on arrests ahead of the summit? Iosbaker: On Wednesday night, May 17, cops broke down the doors of the apartment of two of the leaders of Occupy Chicago, Zoe Sigman and Bill Vassilakis, without even a search warrant. After beating up the Occupy folks from around the country who were staying there, they shackled them, and then held them in secret for 40 hours, despite the efforts of the National Lawyers Guild to locate them.

The authorities later charged three of the young people with terrorism charges, claiming they were conspiring to make Molotov cocktails. Even FOX news recognizes this as a clumsy effort of entrapment. FOX interviewed a retired judge who said these charges will be thrown out of court.

Of course, the purpose of these raids, and other raids and police violence that occurred in the days leading up to Sunday, was to frighten people away from the protest. If not for these, we are confident the march would have been even larger.

The most important lesson is that the people are more powerful than the cops, the mayor, or NATO. With little resources and under heavy repression, we brought together the forces, especially the Occupy Movement and the anti-war movement, to build this demonstration. In doing so, we dealt blows to NATO. Their image has been severely tarnished, and that will make it harder for them to continue the blood bath in Afghanistan and other wars they are planning. We educated millions about NATO and the G8, of which most people in this country knew nothing before we started. This experience has made the Occupy movement one that now takes a stand against imperialist war. And we rekindled the anti-war movement. This was the largest national protest since the 2008 march on the RNC and a good sign that resistance to empire and cut backs will continue to grow.

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