In a brief written statement from the White House, President Obama unexpectedly announced Monday afternoon that the upcoming G8 summit previously scheduled to be held in Chicago would instead occur at the presidential retreat Camp David in Maryland.
A building firestorm of controversy surrounded the summits; including threats by anarchist organizations to disrupt life in downtown Chicago; concerns about violence and civil unrest harming ongoing city business; gridlock and the inability to get from one place to another in Chicago.
The Christian Science Monitor calls the move “an unusually late location change for a large and highly scripted international summit” that came “with little explanation from the White House.”
The declaration appears to have been made with little consultation except among the highest echelons of the White House administration. Chris Johnson, spokesperson for the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, told CSM that his organization was “just as surprised about the announcement as anybody else.”
According to the White House, the decision for the move came from Obama himself, who has been consulting Rahm Emanuel, former White House Chief of Staff to Obama, and current mayor of Chicago.
Emanuel found himself at the center of a firestorm during the lead up to the G8 when he expressed support for what protesters refer to as the “Sit Down and Shut Up” ordinance, which originally included mandatory $1 million liability insurance for protesters, fines of up to $1,000 for people arrested during a protest, stricter guidelines for obtaining permits, and a heightened police presence in the city.
Eventually, City Hall tweaked those harsh proposals, though activists still face doubled fines, increased jail time, and bizarre and unworkable requirements. Perhaps most worringly, the revised ordinance also leaves in place a massive police presence in Chicago, and Emanuel’s proposal for police deputizing of other “law enforcement” personnel (however he chooses to define that) remains in place, and there is no sun-set clause on this provision.
Obama wanted the leaders of the world’s richest nations to have a more “intimate place to meet and speak freely,” ABC reports. The National Security Council’s Caitlin Hayden told ABC7, “this is about the kind of atmosphere for the summit that the president wants.”
Of course, protesters see this sudden, dramatic relocation as a victory following Adbuster’s call for 50,000 activists to descend upon the city of Chicago, and Occupy Chicago’s months of protest planning in anticipation of the summit.
“All of the organizers in Occupy Chicago are incredibly excited that we played a role in making sure that the G8 does not descend on our city,” said Rachel Perrotta, Occupy Chicago.
“Clearly no one in this town wanted the summits here aside from Mayor Emanuel and Barack Obama,” said Andy Thayer, Coalition Against NATO/G8. “They were forced to yank one of them because of the opposition.”
Regardless of the summit’s location, protesters have sworn a large turn-out in Chicago.
But it won’t diminish the number of protesters – tens of thousands, by some estimates – who plan to come to Chicago for a rally and march to protest everything from war to poverty, said Andy Thayer, a leader of the Chicago Coalition Against War and Racism and the Gay Liberation Network and one of the principle planners of the Chicago protests.
“Guess what? The protests are going to happen anyway because if (protesters) are upset about G8, they have just as much reason to be upset about NATO,” said Thayer.
In a written statement, Emanuel expressed enthusiasm for hosting the NATO summit in Chicago May 19-21.
“Hosting the NATO Summit is a tremendous opportunity to showcase Chicago to the world and the world to Chicago and we are proud to host the 50 hears of state, foreign and defense ministers from the NATO and ISAF countries in our great city,” Emanuel said in the written statement.
If the summit was moved because of the threat of protests, it wasn’t because Chicago lacked police resources:
Police sources said the department has already sent about 8,400 of its roughly 12,000 sworn officers through some form of crowd-control training.
To date, about 2,400 officers drawn mostly from tactical and gang units have completed the training designed to prepare them for the front lines of crowd control. Those officers were expected to be outfitted in the black body armor that police call “turtle suits.”
An additional 6,000 officers have taken a less intensive program of up to two days to make them ready to be responders working downtown during the summits, dressed in more traditional uniforms, sources said.
This massive police presence, in addition to the proposed ordinances that would have essentially criminalized certain kinds of protest, meant Chicago would have been under lockdown during the G8 protests, and yet perhaps that still wasn’t enough security to make the wealthiest countries in the world feel comfortable in a post-Occupy world.
Public relations executive Rick Jasculca has been advising Emanuel on the joint summits and told ABC the unexpected move is following a tradition stemming from the 90s to hold these kinds of conferences in “remote locations” to make them feel “more like a real summit of leaders and less of a conference.”
Coincidentally, another phenomenon began in the 90s: the massive street protests in response to global trade negotiations – not in the streets of some far away third-world country – but in Seattle. Observing that eruption, leaders decided it was time for a more intimate setting for their sleepovers.
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