Activists meet in Chicago over G8 and NATO summits

CHICAGO — The names of Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi were invoked Sunday as more than 100 activists gathered in Chicago to plan demonstrations during next spring's G8 and NATO summits in the city.

Starting the day with a history lesson about the iconic activists, advocates for diverse causes — from anti-war to gay rights — spent the day strategizing and organizing what could be the largest demonstrations in Chicago in years.

"There are large numbers of people who want a different world," said Earl Silbar, who represented the suburban Chicago group Sauk Valley Citizens for Peace and Justice. "People are afraid for the future."

The meetings between members of NATO and the Group of Eight — France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada, Russia and the United Kingdom and the U.S. — will be held in May and include discussions about the future of coalition operations in Afghanistan.

Advocates said Sunday they hope to bring in as many people as possible to protest policies they say promote war and poverty.

"These two groups symbolize major threats to world peace, world security and to the environment," said Newland Smith, an Evanston resident and member of the Committee Against Political Repression.

The summit will put Chicago in the international spotlight and some say test Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who took office this year, and the Chicago Police Department.

While recent large scale events — like May 1 immigrant rights marches or the 1996 Democratic National Convention — have been peaceful, that hasn't always been the case in Chicago. During the now infamous 1968 Democratic National Convention, police violently clashed with an estimated 10,000 protesters.

Some activists said they are still worried about possible run-ins with police and city officials.

"Chicago has got a long history of massive civil liberties violations," said Andy Thayer of Chicago, co-founder of the Gay Liberation Network. "The city has not cleaned up its act."

City officials said it's too early to talk about specifics, but they're committed to keeping the city safe while assuring protesters have a voice.

Emanuel has said the summits are a good opportunity for Chicago to showcase itself to the world. He said part of the city's planning effort includes ensuring First Amendment rights.

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