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Was the message lost in the protest?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Most of the world leaders have left Chicago, as have many of the protesters who took to the city's streets during the NATO summit.

It takes a lot to organize a protest that will be something more dust in the wind. And when you have many causes - from mental health cuts to the mission of NATO, it can get pretty muddy to the more casual observer, especially when watched through a media lens that is focused much of the time on the potential for violence.

When protestors left the Boeing building Monday and chanted their way into Chicago's Loop, there were lots of people on the sidewalks watching and taking pictures. Ann Vargo was among them.

"I think people exercising their right to protest, their right to free speech. I think it's positive and I wish they could have something more specific to say," Vargo said.

That may well be a common conclusion -- that there were so many broad protest causes that the messages were diluted in the noise that protest brings.

There were arguable exceptions to that: when the veterans threw their medals away in protest on Sunday and when nurses gathered on Friday. The Nurses say the conversation and questions that have followed tell them their cause resonates.

"I think it was more successful than we could have imagined and were' just beginning to see the ripple effects moving forward," Jan Rodolfo, National Nurses United, said.

But what of other causes? Did they drown each other out, or get lost in the predictable media focus on protestors versus police?

"No, I think just the contrary," Joe Losbaker, a protest organizer who checked word searches in a national publication just days before the NATO summit.

"The top words being searched that day were NATO, protest, occupy and Afghanistan," Losbaker said.

Losbaker believes the event made NATO and the war in Afghanistan dinner table discussions like they hadn't been before. He thinks the debate over where protests could be held and how long they could last added to the discussion.

"It was the controversy around our tight to protest that made that happen to our organizing made the most immense education project I've ever been involved in," Losbaker said.

The National Nurses United certainly believes that the flap with Chicago City Hall over their ultimately successful plan to rally at Daley Plaza made for an event that exceeded their expectations. That doesn't mean the Robin Hood Tax becomes a reality, they say, but it does plant a seed for discussion.

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