Monday, May 21, 2012

NATO Protests

Now that the NATO conference and its attendant protests have concluded, the effectiveness of those protests can be evaluated. Obviously, the protests did not prevent the conference from taking place. The protests also did not have any apparent impact on the conference attendees or upon the business that was carried out at the conference. The conference was like countless other conventions that come to Chicago, except for one thing – because of the protests, some people started asking each other what NATO was and what it did.

It's not a question that people ask when the medical association, housewares conventions, or plastics industry trade shows come to town, because people have a pretty good idea what those groups are all about. But it became obvious that a lot of Americans, perhaps most, really didn't know much about NATO.

From the little bit of coverage that the conference received in the news, the answer emerged that NATO is one of the mechanisms that the US uses to exercise military might around the globe. The main topics discussed at the conference had to do with how long the US would remain in Afghanistan, whether Pakistan would allow its roads to be used by trucks supplying those troops, and on what schedule and terms the Afghan military would replace the US military as a force ruling over the Afghan people. There was also some discussion about whether France would object to new missile “defense” systems being deployed in Europe. France reportedly withdrew its objections once it received a promise that French companies would get some of the contracts for those systems and could profit from the military expansion.

Some of the NATO protesters will be disappointed that they did not bring Chicago to its knees. There were only a few thousand protesters. There were more cops than that. But by creating even a little more awareness of how the US uses NATO to project its military might, the protesters have moved the discussion forward. People who now understand more about our militaristic approach to foreign policy are better equipped to question that approach. They are probably more motivated, too, to continue learning and to speak out.

If there had been no protests and no threat of violence, there would have been almost no news coverage of the NATO conference. No one would be asking, as they did in the days leading up to the conference, what the protesters wanted. The conference, like most government meetings, would have taken place, if not in complete secrecy, in the closest thing to it – in the absence of scrutiny.

So, whatever the protesters hoped to accomplish, what they actually accomplished has the potential to lead to very significant change in the long term. If knowledge really is power, and if truth really does set people free, the protesters may have accomplished a great deal more than the conference attendees did.

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