Members of Occupy Chicago and people from across the country gathered in an aging warehouse just outside Chinatown today to discuss their opposition to next weekend's NATO summit and finish planning for the mass protests they will stage during the meetings of world leaders.
Today's gathering is the first day of a two-day "People's Summit" organized by Occupy Chicago and billed as an alternative to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's May 20-21 summit at McCormick Place.
The event began with several speakers addressing about 200 people in a loft-style room on the 7th floor of the warehouse on the west bank of the Chicago River at West Cermak Road, which has served as Occupy Chicago's headquarters for months.
Many of the speakers said members of Occupy and other protesters should take credit for President Barack Obama's decision in March to move the G-8 summit -- which had also been scheduled for next weekend in Chicago -- to the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland. The White House said the G-8 financial meeting was moved because leaders wanted a more informal setting.
They also spoke out against military and economic policies backed by the U.S. and other western powers that they say hurt the working class and developing countries.
Kevin Rambo Jr., 19, said he traveled to Chicago from San Diego a few weeks ago to participate in May Day and NATO protests and "to be a part of sending the message that the global war machine has to end."
Rambo said he's been alternating between sleeping in a sleeping bag as part of a protest outside a city mental health clinic in Woodlawn that is slated to close and staying with relatives who live in the area.
"There's a revitalized activist community because of the Occupy movement, for the most part," he said, wearing an Occupy San Diego shirt in one of the warehouse's hallways. "Because of the growing number of people who are getting involved, I couldn't really not protest against NATO."
Although the room where various people spoke this morning was mostly full, it was clear that the event's organizers expected more people to attend. Other rooms streaming a live video feed of the speeches and filled with hundreds of chairs for overflow crowds were either empty or had only a handful of spectators.
The primary room was decorated with art and props from the Occupy movement, including life-size paintings of Obama and Mayor Rahm Emanuel wearing dark suits and holding handguns.
After the morning's speeches, attendees scattered throughout the massive brick building to attend workshops and seminars on various topics, from education to the criminal justice system.
Ashley Smith, who flew to Chicago this week from Burlington, Vt., said the NATO summit has brought together people from a wide variety of related causes.
"All the demands that we're making - for social justice, economic equality, against the wars and occupations - they're all linked by opposition to a system that's out of control," Smith said.
Twitter: @RyanTHaggertyCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times