Spring is the air and this year, that means Chicago is busy preparing for next weekend's NATO summit. The police have geared up, lots of cultural organizations and businesses are shutting down, and hopefully most Chicagoans will come through it with nothing more than new gripes about how tough it is to get around this already traffic-clogged city.
Also preparing for some May 20th action are the folks organizing The People’s Summit this weekend. Billed as an alternative to the NATO gathering (but also a call to protest on the 20th) the two-day summit is anchored by four major panel discussions involving activists who are local (immigrant activist Jorge Mujica and long-time antiwar figure Kathy Kelly), regional (Jan Rodolfo, the Midwest Director of the National Nurses United), and international (Malalai Joya, a former member of Parliament in Afghanistan).
There’ll be workshops covering a huge variety of topics, including the media, the philosophical roots of the right to protest, how to create sustainable communities and “radical childcare collectives” (a suitable topic for this Mother’s Day weekend!).
And alongside all the talk there’s some entertainment planned, including music from FM Supreme, a woman who knows how to be heard. FM, also known as Jessica Disu, is a rising star in the world of hip-hop. But she accumulated her skills – and lots of props – through the time she spent in a number of Chicago youth organizations, from the after-school program Kumba Lynx to Chicago Young Authors - she's a two-time, back-to-back champion of CYA's annual slam poetry contest Louder than a Bomb.
Disu is also a long-time activist – she got started at the age of 15! Since the fall she's been involved with Occupy Chicago - going to marches and helping with fund-raisers. She calls Occupy something she's “never seen before" – a movement “handled by my own generation.”
She says the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Troy Davis, who was executed last September in Georgia, got many young people moving. These events certainly worked on her. At a private local gathering with Davis’ late sister, Martina Davis-Correia, Disu actually got to talk with Davis over the phone. He asked her to rap for him and then recited one of his poems. She felt “devastated” when he was put to death.
Poetry has become a powerful way for Disu to connect with people. In her songs she writes about “what’s actually going on in the streets of Chicago, the violence and the poverty of my people. If you are making minimum wage you can’t pay for retirement, you can’t have health insurance.”
She’s also conducted workshops with young people at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center on Chicago’s West Side. After her performance at the Summit Saturday night, she’ll head there for more dialogue, which she thinks is a more effective path to change than protests. “People may not fully understand the power of what they are doing [in a protest]. But when we talk and write about it, they understand they are a part of history.”
The People's Summit takes place Saturday and Sunday. The rest of Weekender's picks are below. Whatever you do - get out there, and enjoy!
Events this weekend
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