What is different about the People’s Summit as compared to now separate G8 and NATO summits?
Let’s start with people. The G8 Summit brings together the heads of state of the richest countries on the planet (and Canada). They are accompanied by a retinue of advisers and a security detail. The NATO Summit brings together 50 heads of state, 28 of whom are members of NATO. The rest are members of various other NATO agreements, such as the Partnership for Peace. They are accompanied by their advisers, representative members of their military general staffs, and their security details. They must be at the summits or risk sending a diplomatic signal they don’t intend. The Russian head of state, Vladimir Putin knows this. That is why he chose to signal his displeasure at the NATO agenda item about a missile defense shield by not attending either the G8 or NATO summits. (Russia is a Partnership for Peace affiliate of NATO.)
The people who attend the People’s Summit are there as a result of their own decision. They don’t pretend to speak for tens of millions of people; they speak for themselves.
Now look at the venues. The G8 Summit is at the President’s retreat in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains — Camp David. The NATO Summit is at McCormick Place, a world-class convention center in Chicago on Lake Michigan.
The People’s Summit was held here.
That is, the People’s Summit was held on the fifth and seventh floors of a former Chicago warehouse that is being rehabilitated as work loft and storage space. This space is also where Occupy Chicago held its general assemblies during the winter and holds its work group meetings until–well, that is an upcoming decision of the Occupy Chicago general assembly.
This is the view from the building toward McCormick Place:
The water flowing under the bridge is the Chicago Sanitary and Shipping Canal, one of the major infrastructure developments of Chicago’s history. It’s not Lake Michigan, but it’s definitely 99% Chicago.
No row of flags or cloth-covered tables here. Nor works of famous artists to act as a backdrop for a formal dinner. But this place has artwork too. There are these portraits of Rahm Emmanuel and President Barack Obama.
What differs is the agenda. At Camp David, it’s austerity. In McCormick Place, it’s the perpetuation of the international military industrial complex and the devolution of power (and financial responsibility) to Europe. At 500 Cermak, it’s a world of equality, peace, and justice.
At McCormick Place, the speeches will be of heads of state and chief military commanders. At 500 Cermak, you will hear from an imam, a teacher, a nurse, a retired military officer, a local labor union leader, a person who showed up at Occupy Chicago one day in the fall, a member of one or more Palestinian flotillas, people who have been in jail in the US (and in Israel), an immigrant, a member of the clergy, two university professors, and a journalist once sentenced to death row for allegedly killing a cop.
At McCormick Place, the workshops will be about standardizing military hardware, the identity of NATO in the post-Soviet era, dealing with austerity imposed by national governments, and methods of responding to “non-state actors”. At 500 Cermak, you can hear discussed (yet) the comparisons among socialist, communism and anarchism; Obama’s new imperialism, the importance of self-care and sustainability to a people’s movement; ways of engaging in support of the people in several countries who dealing with imperial politics and war; union issues; fighting back against cutbacks.
Summits are symbolic acts. They are theater of power. They claim power by the use and control of physical and geographical space. They shut down streets so the powerful can pass. They are symbolic acts exploiting difference.
People’s Summits by their very existence question the power of the powerful. The People’s Summit 2012 in Chicago was no different.