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Putting Dems' Feet to the Fire

A day of action against Democrats who let the anti-war movement down

Story by Sergio Barreto - 8/13/07 - LINK

Video by LaborBeat

Like many Pakistani-Americans, Ifti Nasim was livid when he heard last week that Sen. Barack Obama had advocated sending troops into his native country to hunt down Osama Bin Laden.

"First off, we're against war in Iraq," said Nasim, who serves his community as editor-in-chief of the Weekly Pakistan news, host of the Sargam Radio program on WSBC, and works closely with organizer Andy Thayer. "Then Obama says he would bomb Iran, and now Pakistan. The guy is a warmonger."

Nasim's blood pressure soared even higher when he found out that Obama was coming to his neighborhood for a fundraising lunch with Pakistani-American and Indian-American leaders. He got wind of the plans just two days before the event, but that gave him enough time to send out a flurry of e-mails and dial his way down his contact list calling for a protest against Obama.

Then he got a phone call from Tariq Sidiqqi, the Pakistani-born real estate developer who organized the fundraiser. "He said Obama made the comments [about Pakistan] after they invited him. He said, 'Why don't you not do the rally and instead come in and talk to him directly?'" Nasim refused to play ball and called 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore, asking him to make sure police would cooperate with the rally.

Nasim lets it fly

By Sergio Barreto

So Nasim and supporters started gathering across the street from Mysore Woodlands restaurant around 11 a.m. last Tuesday. Obama was whisked in through the back of the venue, avoiding the sound of "Obama, hypocrite" chants and diatribes spewed into a loudspeaker by Nasim and others — not to mention the sight of signs such as "Sen. Obama, Good speaker. But no clue what to speak."

Shortly after noon, when the fundraiser was scheduled to start, the protesters spotted Ald. Moore about to walk into the restaurant and started to chant his name as waved his right hand wildly in the air, entreating the alderman to come across the street.

Moore waved at the crowd as he opened the restaurant door, then held it open for a moments, searching for a way to reconcile his political loyalties with the demands of his agitated constituents. He crossed the street, shook hands and made small talk with entrepreneur Arshad "Sony" Javid, who was holding a "War is not the answer sign."

And then he was surrounded. "We love you, Joe," Nasim blurted out through the loudspeaker that was soon in the alderman's face. "We know you're anti-war. Can you say a few words?"

Ald. Moore on the spot

By Sergio Barreto

Looking about as comfortable as a man who'd just had his toes crunched into shoes three sizes too small, Moore tried to give the people what they wanted. "Well, I can only speak for myself, I can't speak for anyone else. I've been a long opponent of using war as a solution to our problems ..."

The crowd liked what they heard; there were loud cheers. Then they implored Moore not to go into the restaurant. He went, sheepishly.

Soon Nasim handed the loudspeaker to Thayer, who proceeded to up the ante. "[Obama] is not our friend, and people who are part of the peace movement should not be associating with him," Thayer said. "And while we're on the subject of friends, let me say that Hillary Clinton is also not our friend … we already have a warmonger as president of the United States. We don't need that warmonger to be replaced with another warmonger."

And as Thayer spoke, the police officers who had been milling at the opposite corner during the rally were suddenly standing directly across the street — and they looked quite edgy, as if waiting for him to utter the words that would allow them to surge toward him and haul him off to wherever it is that they think pinkos of this caliber are supposed to go.

See the officers off in the corner ...

By Sergio Barreto

... see them come hither as Thayer speaks, then look away as the camera is pointed at them

Alas, Thayer failed to incite a riot, orgy of looting, or any such disruption of the social fabric along Devon Avenue, so the constabulary eventually shuffled back to the corner, empty-handed.

The officers' display of hostility seemed like a bad omen of things to come at a protest Thayer would be spearheading later that afternoon, when Obama and the other Democratic presidential hopefuls would parade into Soldier Field for a debate sponsored by the AFL-CIO.

The debate protest had been in the planning for weeks, but thank to the usual permit runaround Thayer had not received formal clearance from the city. So when the Obama action wrapped up, he headed to Soldier Field, prepared to be hassled and even arrested.

Initially things went smoothly — there was virtually no police presence as Thayer and a few dozens of activists gathered by an overpass that leads to the stadium's south entrance at 4 p.m., passing out literature to political operatives and rank-and-file union members.

Marge Haracz of Military Families Speak Out at the Soldier Field action

By Andy Thayer

Soon the protesters were swarmed by police and told to leave. "They never issued formal orders to disperse, but they threatened to arrest everybody, starting with me," Thayer said. The protesters held their ground, with the help of National Lawyers Guild attorneys and legal observers.

Eventually the police backed off, asking Thayer to move the protest to the other side of the overpass, "which was about all of 30 feet away," he said, labeling the request as "a face-saving measure."

So Thayer and his crew moved, and continued to leaflet and speak out, dispersing out of their own volition when the debate began at 6 p.m. "We got a great response," he said. "Even the Obama and Clinton reps didn't argue with us." The protest landed on the evening news, so police hassles aside, at the end of the day Thayer felt that Chicago had just struck an important blow for the political independence of the peace movement.

"There was a real drive to co-opt the anti-war movement to the Democratic side before the 2004 elections," he said. "This time we're making it clear that we're not falling for any phony peacenicks."

On the far North Side of town, Nasim sounded a similar note. "The Obama protest was very successful," he said. "It was on the news all over the world, including Pakistan. We're making it clear that we're not giving anyone an easy pass because they say they're progressive. They have to show it."

© 2007 Sergio Barreto. All rights reserved.


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