Barricades at Roosevelt Ave.
The NATO Summit held in Chicago from Sunday, May 20th to Monday, May 21st got everyone nervous, with fear of terrorist attacks and chaos by demonstrations. Many sections of the highways and city streets were blocked and many people didn’t come to work in their downtown offices on Monday.
I came back from a trip to New York City last Friday and was prepared to spend the night in my new loft office, which is near a Blue Line subway station in the city. But the tranquility on the train eased my worries and I changed my mind and got on to a south bound Red Line train at Grand/Lake and walked on to Roosevelt Ave., where the road was supposed to blocked. It was right after 10 p.m., and I was surprised that, despite the heavy presence of police, the traffic was moving as usual. I got home without any problem.
Entrance to Museum Campus
Next day at about 5 p.m., the curiosity of a writer got over me. Against my husband Francis’ objection (coming all the way from China via Skype), I rode my bike out along the lakefront trail, armed with a camera. Overnight, all the barricades were up—concretes blocks, metal fences, and surprisingly, a long line of heavy-duty snowplows—stretched from Roosevelt Ave. all the way to the trails in Museum Campus and the Lake Michigan. It looked like a war zone!
The sidewalks were still open, however, so after some hesitation, I took off on my bike, moving carefully through the narrow metal gate to the Museum Park and headed—the south path, my usual route, leads to the back of the McCormick Place where the Summit meeting was to be held and was completely blocked.
Snowplows used as barricade!
It was a beautiful day, but the usually packed lakefront trail had few people. I had to carry my bike to a lower level by the lake to pass the snowplows that blocked not only Balbo St., Columbus Dr. and Lake Shore Dr., but also the trails and the lawn! As I continued north, however, more people appeared. The further I went, the more scenes of normal life in sight, with young people playing soccer, families relaxing by the beach, and pedestrians/joggers/bikers moving along the trail. I breathed a sign of relief and rode much further north than I intended.
I jogged along the same trail early Sunday morning. Besides the ugly roadblocks and the presence of more police, everything appeared peaceful. I ventured out of the lakefront trail and came up to the street at Michigan Ave. and Wacker Drive. There were more people walking in black coats in the street than regular pedestrians, and groups of policemen were at many cross sections, mostly chatting among themselves. When I passed the Art Institute of Chicago where Obama was to host a dinner that evening, I saw more people, some wearing T-shirts with “Peace” printed in the front or back.
A restaurant on Michigan was all boarded up against potential damage.
“We are from Rockford,” I heard a young couple waving to two couple passing by.
“We are from Philadelphia!”
They cheered for one another and moved on. They must be protesters—thousands of them were expected during the Summit.
I watched the day’s events on TV and was relieved for the most part, the demonstration was peaceful.
Monday morning, I had to work on a presentation at my producer’s office in the Prudential building, which is next to Aon, a major site of demonstration. By the time I got there, my producer and his assistant Lana were both there and neither of them encountered any problem coming in, though the office building was quite empty.
Policemen in front of the Cultural Center
Most of the roadblocks were removed by 10 p.m. on Monday. On the news, Mayor Rahm Emanuel proudly praised Chicago’s police force, saying their conduct during the NATO Summit was a lesson of what should be done in such situation.
I recalled that during the day, I saw two tourists approach a group of police with a map in their hands. A policeman raised his hand with a gesture of “stop.” The two women froze in shock, only to see the armed policeman broke into a smile and beckoned them to come forward. They laughed and proceeded to ask for directions. I was impressed by the humor and warmth demonstrated by both sides.
As the news continued on TV, I suddenly heard the fainted humming of traffic from Columbus and Lake Shore Drive. I looked out from the window and saw all the roads were open. Opening the sliding door, I let the sound of the traffic came through. For the first time, it sounded like music to my ears.
Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into a feature-length documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and narrated by Jacqueline Bisset.