Even as world leaders descended on Chicago for the NATO conference, on my lunch break I popped over to the rousing National Nurses United protest rally at the Daley Plaza. Sporting pointy green caps with red feathers in them, the members called for a "Robin Hood tax" on the rich.
Somebody had popped a little stencil on the Picasso: TTFRA ("Tax the F****** Rich Already," asterisks in the original). I wonder if Picasso would approve? Maybe so.
This senior was getting into it, clapping along as the band of Merry Men (and women) on the platform swayed to a karaoke chorus of "Dancing In The Street."
There was rather more elbow room than I'd anticipated. Not a sparse turnout, maybe, but not packed, either.
These fellows make a good visual point. Not sure it's as eloquent as, say, Noam Chomsky would have put it.
Under sunny blue skies, speaker after speaker denounced the Man in ringing tones. A series of community-group reps took turns for a minute at the mic: speakers from a teachers' union, a Pilsen group, and from as far afield as the UK and Western Europe. John Nichols from The Nation issued a strenuous call for the Robin Hood tax.
It culminated in Tom Hayden, who gave a sly address, remarking that he hadn't been granted a permit to speak in Chicago for 44 years. Friar Tuck was the ancestor of the Berrigan brothers, he said (Google 'em if you don't know). Maybe the Merry Men were drunks, maybe they were also the progenitors of the LGBT movement. And who, then, was the modern minstrel? Tom Morello.
With that, hometown boy Tom Morello took the stand. He offered some preliminary remarks, talking about how the city had been jerking them around in the weeks leading up to the rally and thanking the nurses' union for their steadfast support. The city was going to cancel the rally, then told the nurses they could have it on one condition: no Tom Morello. But, Tom declared, they looked Rahm in the eye, looked the city's attorneys in the eye, looked NATO in the eye, and said, "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me!" (Little Rage Against the Machine reference, there.)
I'm a Chicago guy myself, Tom offered, so the insinuation that I would ever do anything to hurt Chicago was a real insult. (He sounded hurt when he said it.)
In his Nightwatchman acoustic guise, he went into "One Man Revolution." Shouldering an electric axe and joined by Tim McIlrath off of Rise Against, he ripped out a stirring version of "The Ghost Of Tom Joad," which he introduced as "a song by Bruce Springsteen, the only Boss worth listening to." He said something like, they weren't sure if they wanted me to play electric guitar today, but I thought, no way I'm not gonna shred in the shadow of the Picasso. His solo echoed through the streets of downtown. He played part of it with his teeth!
You can barely make out Tim and Tom here under the banner in the center of the image. My camera phone has a shite zoom.
I'd interviewed Tom almost 20 years ago for Rock Out Censorship magazine, when I caught up with him at Lollapalooza '93. In this sea of activists I was borne back to the 90s, the days when I was of them, not an observer on his lunch break. Over the years, for many reasons, I found myself turning away from activism to focus on art and the things I love, film and music.
A rejuvenating breeze blew through the square. The scent of Patchouli wafted past. It was a nice warm day, full of protest-y energy and young activists in their summer clothes. Probably I have a more developed sense of irony now than I did then. I think that's generally a healthy thing. Still, the comic distance from where I now stand is a bit bittersweet. I look over these folks in the square and fundamentally I see ordinary people standing up for a society organized the way I'd like to see it organized, with a modicum more democracy and fairness. I support them all the way.