War Veterans March Against NATO – Give Back Service Medals.

Veterans from the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq lead a march of thousands against NATO in Chicago – May 20, 2012

The main day of protest had arrived. People from across the country came in busses to Chicago’s Grant Park where the start of the main march and protest against NATO was being staged. There, at Petrillo Music Shell, protesters gathered, listened to music and speakers condemning the actions of NATO throughout the world.

As the procession began down Michigan Avenue, almost fifty veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq marched in formation with women representing Afghans for Peace at the front of the march. Chanting and singing: “No NATO, no war! We don’t work for your no more!” the veterans were followed by nearly 10,000 people on their way to a rally a few blocks away from where the NATO Summit was being held. There, the veterans gave their Global War on Terror medals back by throwing them in the direction of the summit. Police estimates say the crowd numbered between 2,500 – 3,000, while others who have viewed areal photos of the packed march stretching for five city blocks along Michigan Avenue, put the numbers closer to 10,000.

At the rally, held in the intersection of Cermak and Michigan, one by one the veterans got up on stage and told their story before throwing their medals toward the NATO Summit. One veteran, Scott Olsen held up his war medals before throwing them away, “I have with me today—today I have with me my Global War on Terror Medal, Operation Iraqi Freedom Medal, National Defense Medal and Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal. These medals, once upon a time, made me feel good about what I was doing. They made me feel like I was doing the right thing. And I came back to reality, and I don’t want these anymore.”

As soon as the emotional ceremony concluded, police gave the order to disperse from the area. Clad in riot gear and body armor, hundreds of police quickly moved in, surrounding the veterans and a large portion of the crowd who refused to leave. The veterans were allowed to make their way safely out of the area, then police encircled the group, hitting protesters will batons and pulling them out of the crowd for arrest. Deploying the Long Range Acoustical Device (LRAD) an order to disperse continued as lines of riot police slowly moved protesters who were still milling about, out of the area.

Later that evening, with word President Obama and other world leaders would be attending a gala event at the Chicago Institute of Arts, an impromptu protest sprang up when about 200 protesters descended on the museum to protest outside. Sitting outside the museum in the middle of Michigan Avenue, rain-soaked protesters continued to face of with police lines into the night.

Click here to see more images from all four days of NATO protests on my Flickr photostream.