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Nurses’ pre-NATO rally expected to draw thousands

Associated Press

CHICAGO (AP) – Thousands of anti-NATO demonstrators are expected to converge at a downtown plaza Friday for a rally that promises to be a prelude to a much larger march Sunday, when world leaders begin two days of talks. Meanwhile, many office buildings will be shuttered after workers were told to stay home amid warnings about heightened security, snarled transportation and the possibility of unruly protests.

National Nurses United officials have said they expect about 2,000 nurses to attend Friday’s rally, where they will call for a “Robin Hood” tax on financial institutions’ transactions to offset cuts in social services, education and health care. But city officials have said the rally likely will draw more than 5,000 because of a performance by former Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, an activist who has played at many Occupy events.

The union had scheduled the rally to coincide with the G-8 economic summit, which originally was to be held in Chicago but was moved to Camp David, Md. Midwest Director Jan Rodolfo said the nurses decided to go forward with the rally in the hope that their message would reach a worldwide audience.

“What we really hope for is a large, festive, hopeful, constructive tone regarding the Robin Hood tax and that everyone in attendance feels like they’re part of a moment in history,” Rodolfo said. She said the movement is much more momentum in other countries and “we’re hoping to put it on the map” in the U.S.

Earlier in the day, the U.S. North American Aerospace Defense will hold training flights in downtown Chicago. Other small protests, including one targeting climate change, are planned.

Scattered protests over the past week have been relatively small, including a march through the “Magnificent Mile” shopping district that drew about 100 people Thursday.

But the much larger nurses’ rally will mark a ramp-up to Sunday’s anti-NATO march by underscoring that money spent fighting wars means less money for needs such as health care, education and other social programs, said Andy Thayer, an organizer of the anti-NATO march. His group _ Coalition Against the NATO/G8 War & Poverty Agenda _ has been working to draw those connections ever since President Barack Obama moved the G-8 summit, potentially dampening enthusiasm for a Chicago demonstration.

“I think it’s really going to be big … with the nurses,” Thayer said. “That is going to be the 99 percent staking itself against the 1 percent, drawing the connections between the war abroad and the war on working people here at home.

“They are the front-line caregivers … and the nurses to their credit understand the connections between NATO, G8 and the deplorable state of health care in our country and are speaking out about it.”

Estimates of how many might show up Sunday have varied widely, from a couple thousand to more than 10,000. Busloads of demonstrators from around the country have begun arriving in Chicago, though some who had planned to come, including from the Occupy movement, have said they’re staying home or going to an area near Camp David instead.

But some activists are anticipating they’ll be joined by many more people than expected.

“Chicago has a reputation for resisting,” including a 2003 demonstration against the Iraq War that flooded downtown Chicago with 10,000 people, said one of Thursday’s protesters, Salek Khalid, a 21-year-old student at Northwestern University. “I feel comfortable saying Chicago will live up to its reputation, hopefully peacefully.”

Police and the Secret Service have taken no chances, as Obama and 50 heads of state begin arriving for the NATO summit, where leaders will discuss the war in Afghanistan and European missile defense.

Security is high on trains. Barricades and fences have been erected around landmark buildings. Streets are being closed. And world-class museums are shutting down.

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said Thursday that the protesters so far “have been very well behaved.” He said he did not anticipate that the tenor of Friday’s rally would be different, but that if it is, “We are going to carry through with what we said we were going to do. We’re going to facilitate the rights of these individuals while preventing criminal actions.”


Associated Press Writer Jason Keyser contributed to this report.

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