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Diverse Voices at NATO Protests

Several thousand people from all walks of life came out to Chicago’s Grant Park Sunday to protest against NATO.

Dr. Daud Miraki stood under the shade of trees in Grant Park holding one end of a banner that called for the end of U.S. and NATO occupation in Afghanistan. An Afghan-American, Miraki has been living in the U.S. for the past 27 years.

Miraki, along with other Afghan academics from across the country, have come to Chicago to help protest against a war that has ravaged their home country for more than a decade.

Miraki said U.S. officials talk about bringing freedom and democracy to his country, “but they could have embarked on freedom in 2002, instead they incited violence…The operation failed miserably,” Miraki said.

NATO Protesters Marching Down the Loop (Photo Credit: Austin Montgomery)

In 2009, Miraki attempted a presidential run in Afghanistan, but said the elections are useless. He said the majority of Afghan people have no voice, and the powerful few make the decisions. It will be impossible to bring democracy when all these troops occupy the land, Miraki said.

“NATO is totally useless,” Miraki said. “It serves no purpose no function in the current world except to create war.”

Protester Eric Kerl with the International Socialist Organization spoke briefly about the organization as he put together banners for today’s protest.

“The main thing that we are actually trying to do is make a connection with NATO and what their real-war is in terms of the hangover from the Cold War, imperialism, U.S. interests abroad and what’s being apposed on the working class people around the world,” Kerl said.

Dennis Lee from St. Paul, Minnesota traveled with a group by bus to Chicago. The bus arrived at the park at 5:30 a.m.

Lee said he is here to join the protest against NATO and he believes it is his duty to come and be a part of it.

“[I am here] basically [because] of the horrors this organization has been bringing on,” Lee said. He stated examples such as the economic crisis and the “wars that have basically been started by them.”

Lee is a member of Veterans for Peace and with the Twin-Cities Anti-War Committee.

Samira Sayed-Rahman, a student from Toronto, was in Chicago representing Afghans for Peace. The daughter of an Afghan refugee, Sayed-Rahman helped found the group.

“Afghans were scared to speak out, and frankly we just felt it was our duty to come here to Chicago and try to provide that voice,” she said. “They want the troops out and we’re just here to provide those voices.”

Sayed-Rahman said that she has been in regular contact with Afghans and that they just want peace.

“My entire family lives in Afghanistan, without my immediate family, and my taxpayer dollars in Canada are paying to kill them,” she said. “That’s something I can’t stand for.”

Iraq veteran Greg Broseus is marching against war and plans on returning his medals today.

“We are here as veterans that have served in Afghanistan, that have served in Iraq… and we are here in opposition to these wars that are happening and we want to stand in peace and solidarity with the people of Iraq and Afghanistan,” Broseus said.

Irma Bajar, 34, came from New York to protest the militarization of the Philippines and stands to be a voice for Filipino women and children.

“Women are being raped, and children are being abused. (The) number one export in the Philippines are actually humans; 4,000 Filipinos leave the country every day. And 70 percent of those people are women who are working abroad,” Bajar said.

She is the vice chair of international relations of Gabriela USA, an organization that seeks to raise awareness of women’s struggles in the Philippines.

Nancy Paraskevopoulos, 25, is a queer activist with Queers Against NATO, an LGBTQ group that opposes militarism and asks that military funding instead go ending employment discrimination for LGBTQ individuals and other causes.

“For me personally, identifying the link between being queer and globalization is really important…Until those at the very bottom of our global society benefit from this society, we all need to stand up and fight and make sure.”

Nan Wigmore, perhaps the oldest protester in Chicago, is a 75-year-old great-grandmother. She took a free bus provided by National Nurses United from her home in Portland, Oregon.

“I see a lot of hope here,” she said. “I don’t think this movement is going to stop. I don’t think there’s a chance that it will. We’re going to make a difference, I just know it.”

Her main goal is to stop the military-industrial complex and stop the killing of innocent people. She first got involved in the anti-nuclear protests of the 70s and 80s, and said that those experiences gave her a sense of what is right.

“Be the change. It’s hard I tell you!” said Wigmore, “But now I’m gonna go take a nap.”

Ladini Shakti, 31, is a Krishna from Chicago. Wearing a paisley printed sari, she danced with other Krishna supporters in Grant Park among several thousand NATO protesters. However, Shakti said she and her friends were not there to protest. They only sought to “spread peace.”

“You can go on protesting forever and things might not get solved, but if you start with yourself trying to get rid of that vice inside you, like greed and envy, then you can do something for the world. We’re just here to make people happy.”

Matt Sahlin was not out on Sunday as a protester.

“I’m a historian,” he said, “so I came out to see history being made here today.”

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