CHICAGO — Thousands of protesters marched through downtown Chicago on Sunday in one of the city’s largest demonstrations in years, airing grievances about war, climate change and a wide range of other complaints as world leaders assembled for a NATO summit.
The protest, which stirred worries about violence in the streets, was largely peaceful until the end, when a small group of demonstrators clashed with a line of police who tried to keep them from the lakeside convention center where President Barack Obama is hosting the gathering.
The protesters tried to move east toward McCormick Place and threw objects at police. Some officers responded by swinging their batons.
After more than an hour, the two sides were still locked in a standoff, with police blocking the protesters’ path and the crowd refusing to leave. Some protesters appeared to have blood streaming down their faces. Authorities were seen carrying a few people away from the scene.
Esther Westlake, a graduate of Northeastern Illinois University, marveled at the crowd. She said she had been involved in Chicago antiwar marches before the war in Iraq, but had never seen one this big. “It’s crazy. There’s so many people here,” she said. “Having NATO in town is kind of exciting.”
But some participants wondered whether the protest agenda was too unfocused to get the diplomats’ attention. “It seems like there’s so many messages and people aren’t really sure what they want to get accomplished,” Westlake said. “People just need to figure out what their argument is going to be.”
She worried that some protesters participated simply “to do stupid things” and cause trouble. Some participants called for the dissolution of NATO, the 63-year-old military alliance that is holding its 25th formal meeting in Chicago.
“Basically NATO is used to keep the poor poor and the rich rich,” said John Schraufnagel, who traveled to Chicago from Minneapolis. Since the end of the Cold War, he said, the alliance has become “the enforcement arm of the ruling 1 percent, of the capitalist 1 percent.”
Peace activists joined with war veterans and people more focused on the economy. Marchers assembled at Grant Park with signs denouncing NATO, including ones that read: “War=Debt” and “NATO, Go Home.”