I know and have worked with some of the people and organizations that are planning the protests, and I feel a certain obligation to participate. Solidarity is important. But I also know that there will be people at the protests who will not be pursuing the same goals that I am. Various government agencies will probably have provocateurs among the crowd who will be trying to incite violence in order to discredit the protests. Some violence-prone activists may even come in from out of town. I have no interest in being part of a crowd which could be manipulated towards unproductive action.
Nor am I interested in playing the role of peaceful protester bloodied by reactionary out-of-control security forces. I don't think it will help anyone to promote the idea that we are once again, as in 1968, caught up in a struggle between the establishment and those who seek progress.
All this is not to say that I am just being frightened away by the massive show of force that we have been promised. I am really not afraid for my safety. I have marched in plenty of protests before, and I know that with very few exceptions, everyone on both sides will want things to go smoothly.
The biggest question is really whether the protests will accomplish anything. It is a question that activists usually answer by pointing out that without the protests, nothing will be accomplished. The world needs to see that there are people in the US who oppose our government's approach to the world. But if all the world sees is that most Chicagoans go about their lives while a small group protests, which is what I expect will happen, the protests will have done little.
What I would really like to do is to invite some of the NATO delegates and a handful of my friends over for dinner at my house. If the delegates have any interest in finding out what Americans think, that would be a great way to go. But I don't think that is what this NATO meeting is all about. I think it is just another meeting among people whose governments like to use force to control the world. They are not coming to Chicago to listen to Chicagoans. This is just a place to meet. The delegates won't be paying attention to the protesters any more than George Bush paid attention to us when we tried to explain to him why invading Iraq would be a bad idea.
Whenever the NATO nations decide they want to hear what I and my friends and neighbors think and learn how we feel about what they have been doing, all they have to do is phone me. I'm easy to reach and would be happy to set a few extra places at the dinner table for them. For that matter, if my own government ever decides it is interested in what ordinary people think, the invitation is open to them, too.