Chicago Prepares to Host NATO Protesters

As the NATO summit draws increasingly closer, Chicago hostels, hotels, businesses – and even average citizens – are preparing for an influx of people traveling to protest the international gathering.

No one knows for sure how many protesters will descend on the city for the May 20-21 summit, to be held at McCormick Place. Members of the city’s host committee say they’re anticipating around 7,500 demonstrators, but ultimately there’s no way to predict how many people will take to the streets to rally in opposition to NATO. A large-scale protest, organized by the Coalition Against NATO/G8 War & Poverty Agenda (CANG8), is scheduled for noon on Sunday, with other protests scheduled earlier and later in the week.

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And for those that are traveling from out of state – or the country – they’ll need somewhere to sleep.

“There’s definitely been more activity, more interest for that weekend than we’ve seen in the past, historically. But we would normally book out on that weekend anyway,” said Thomas Applegate, executive director Hosteling International Chicago, a downtown hostel located blocks from Grant Park.

Applegate says his 500 beds are entirely booked for the weekend, but only two small groups – around 30 people total – have identified themselves as protest participants.

Applegate says that doesn’t mean there won’t be more.

“Other than the groups that self-identified, we don’t have a mechanism to ask visitors if they’ll be protesting. All we can do is base our judgments on past numbers,” said Applegate. “It’s not something that we poll our visitors about.”

Bucktown’s IHSP Hostel says it’s completely booked for the weekend. Katerina Mantis, a manager at Parthenon Hostel in the West Loop, says her 130 beds are nearly all reserved as well, something she says isn’t out of the ordinary for this time of year. As a precautionary measure though, Mantis says the hostel will not hold any bags behind the checkout counter before or after checkout.  

“More so, everyone’s kind of worried about the inconvenience of our guests. A lot of people will probably be upset with the trains and the luggage restrictions, especially if they’re coming from the airport or train station,” said Mantis, who added that a few groups canceled their trips in light of the summit.

Both Mantis and Applegate say they, or other representatives of their businesses, have been to security briefings and  talked with officials. Applegate says he’s also attending Occupy Chicago meetings in order to stay informed of their protest plans.

Both Occupy Chicago and CANG8 have been pairing incoming protesters with local residents who are volunteering their spare bedrooms, couches and yards as sleeping space.

Pat Hunt works on the housing committee for CANG8. She says the group has received about 400 requests for housing this weekend via their website, some coming from as far as Germany and Sweden.

“We’ve had everything from landlords saying they have space in the basement to people saying I have a spare bedroom,” said Hunt. “And it’s all from different parts of the city – north to south, east to west.”

Trinity Episcopal Church, located in the shadow of McCormick Place, has volunteered its front yard as a camping ground for a group of protesters cycling in from Madison, Wisc.

Lorraine Chavez, a McKinley Park resident, told WBEZ she’s offering up two bedrooms to protesters from Florida.

“I am underemployed myself, despite having a master’s, a career path, and doctoral work at the University of Chicago. All of the men in my family who are responsible for college-age kids have all been laid off. If we did not have wars, we could have investments for jobs. This is the moment that these demands are being made and heard and I need to be a part of it,” Chavez told WBEZ.

Still, there’s no telling how many people will show up for the May 20-21 summit, or what to expect from the groups. NBC Chicago reports 3,100 Chicago police officers have been assigned to guard against the type of violence that broke out in Seattle at the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting.

CPD will be assisted by hundreds of officers from other cities such as Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C.

Chicago police could not confirm the number of police dedicated specifically to the event or the number of protesters they’re expecting during the summit.

As for what Applegate, the hostel manager, is expecting from the upcoming protests, he said, “We’ll know more in the weekend.”

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