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Protest Fears & the Relocation of the G8 Summit to Camp David

G8 Summit in Canada in 2010 (photo: The Prime Minister's Office)

The Obama Administration recently announced the G8 summit would be moved from Chicago to the secluded Camp David. For most of Chicago, the announcement was confounding. The city had been preparing for months and now, just over two months before the summit was to take place, Mayor Rahm Emanuel lost the privilege to host the summit and show off the city to some major world leaders.

The statement the White House initially issued on the venue change claimed the change was made “to facilitate a free-flowing discussion” with America’s “close G-8 partners.” A day later President Barack Obama elaborated during a press conference:

This was an idea that was brought to me after the initial organizing of the NATO summit. Someone pointed out that I hadn’t had any of my counterparts, who I’ve worked with now for three years, up to Camp David. G-8 tends to be a more informal setting in which we talk about a wide range of issues in a — in a pretty intimate way. And the thinking was that people would enjoy being in a more casual backdrop.

I think the weather should be good that time of year. It will give me a chance to spend some time with Mr. Putin, the new Russian president.

I always have confidence in Chicago being able to handle security issues. Whether it’s the Taste of Chicago or Lopalooza or Bulls championships, we know how to deal with the crowd. And, I’m sure that your new mayor will be quite attentive to detail in making sure that everything goes off well. [Note: Obama botched the name of the music festival, which is Lollapalooza.]

Ignoring whatever “intimate” talk Obama has planned when he gets together in a setting with a “more casual backdrop” with President Vladimir Putin, there is a key distinction to be made between music and sports events that attract crowds and political meetings that attract crowds: crowds at the aforementioned music and sports events do not present any challenge to power. They are not there to assert any rights other than their “right” to party (which sometimes can get out of hand).

There is no growing outcry against potential attendees when music or sports events come to town. Though they may present the exact same potential for riots and unruly behavior because intoxicated individuals may cause property damage and even start fights, the press will not act as an echo chamber for the fears of local area business owners and city officials afraid of what might happen when citizens exercise their First Amendment rights.

The crowds are also different in that one group is wholly supportive of the events being held in the city while crowds at political meetings are typically opposed to all players involved in making the event possible. They don’t like that the leaders came to the city and would like to run them out of town.

Let’s pause for a moment and consider the following: Why would these leaders be unwelcome? And, what is the G8?

It is a group of eight of the richest countries in the world:  France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, Canada, Russia and the United States. China, Brazil, Mexico, India and South Africa are excluded but part of the “Outreach Five.”

The G8 is composed of leaders known to promote austerity. They push neoliberal policies and contribute to crises in the “eurozone.” As Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic Policy & Research has said, they squeeze the economies of Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Spain and drive up unemployment. They “drag out the recession” and fail to offer any alternative.

It is a group of countries that chose to increase funding to the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2010 instead of investing more aid to fight hunger and poverty in Africa. It is a group that is increasingly seen as neocolonial as it makes decisions that directly impact some of the most marginalized and poor countries of the world. It is a group that should be urgently addressing worldwide climate change yet it is more concerned with preserving global capitalism. And, it is a group that has dodged and repeatedly ignored the impact of their decisions and inaction on key issues of the world.

That said, it makes perfect sense that Obama would have the G8 moved to Camp David.

The move makes one wonder why the Obama Administration ever granted Chicago the opportunity to host in the first place. It makes one wonder why the Administration would ever want the summit to happen at any other setting than Camp David.

If the world’s leaders can meet out of sight and out of mind without fear of being held up or confronted by protesters, if they can lay back and talk international politics amongst their elite selves, giving a mayor the chance to show off his ability to host a global summit should be a liability never taken.

Economic and military elites should meet in private. It is not like they have the guts to have face time with any of the leaders of groups most opposed to the agendas and policies they promote, which is why it is tough to argue protest leaders are incorrect to suggest fear of protests played a role in the decision to move the summit.

Joe Iosbaker of the Coalition Against the NATO/G8 War and Poverty Agenda said, according to the Associated Press, “It’s a major victory for those of us who are planning these protests…The administration is taking G-8 someplace where they won’t have to face the people who suffer under their policies.”

National Nurses United spokesperson Chuck Idelson, who planned to be joining demonstrations, said, “It is certainly striking that whoever made this decision, whether it was the Obama administration or the city of Chicago, would make a decision to isolate the world leaders and move an event out of third-largest city in this country and hide the world leaders in rural Maryland in a place that’s inaccessible to the public.”

And, Occupy Chicago declared, as the Occupied Chicago Tribune reported:

The G8 moving to Camp David represents a major victory for the people of Chicago. The leaders of the 1% are moving because of the overwhelming resistance to the NATO/G8 war and poverty agenda in Chicago. Our city is filled with tens of thousands of people who are struggling to keep their heads above water, fighting against the effects of the economic crisis caused by the leaders who would have been gathering here.  The communities of Chicago are fighting to save their schools, keep healthcare available, and to defend their jobs from cutbacks that are a hallmark of the governments of the G8.


As someone who was tracking the buildup to the summit, it was pretty clear that there was a lot of animosity toward the city of Chicago for bringing the G8 to Chicago because it would likely bring with it the chaos of protests. Though Chicago police chief Garry McCarthy and a few other leaders in the city tried to calm business owners and members of the press, hysteria still spread.

Out of the hysteria came fears that feces or urine would be thrown at police by anarchist protesters so the police had to buy new special riot gear for protection. Then, the fear of horses mounted police being attacked led to the purchase of riot helmets and other equipment for the horses. Then, apartment building owners feared they could be “residual targets” and incur “collateral damage” so they were offered training on how to “keep tear gas out of the buildings.” Then, Sears announced it would be putting up plywood to prevent windows from being broken. Chatter about the courts being closed for fear of safety circulated too.

But, perhaps, the peak of insanity came when the city put out a call for bids on a contract for “blast resistant” trashcans because they wanted to reduce the possibility of fatalities during a potential terror attack. The contractors were told to submit “pre- and post-detonation photos along with video footage” when they submit their bids to prove the quality of their cans. They were also told the receptacles must “have the capacity to contain and mitigate six pounds of pure TNT placed inside the receptacle.”

When would the authoritarian shopping spree end?

The host committee wanted businesses to stick around and help during the summit. But, with all the frenzied uproar about protesters descending on Chicago to not simply protest but also potentially destroy every owner’s piece of storefront property in downtown, the business executives were saying they intended to get out of town. They even considered putting their employees up in hotels for the weekend so they did not have to worry about them getting hurt going to and from work.

Business pressure may have resulted in the venue move. The hysteria that businesses, the police union president and others were fostered possibly contributed to the change. And, unfortunately, the phobia these businesses have for democracy is likely to persist.

The plan had been to host both the NATO and G8 summits together May 19 through May 21. The NATO meeting is still happening and the abrupt change in venue has not been met with calls from protest groups to relocate planned demonstrations to some site near Camp David.

Plans were made to mobilize in Chicago. While numbers may be lower now that both summits are not being held in the same city, police will still have to deal with massive demonstrations. They may have a “bad day” and violate the rights of protesters. This might be passed off as a result of not having enough training” or “preparation” for the protests. Whatever happens, thousands of protesters will still be out protesting what Andy Thayer, lead organizer of the planned protests, calls the “military arm of the G8.”


Now here is a Storify I produced on how Rahm Emanuel lost the G8. I had been putting this together for the past few weeks. While the preparations specific to the G8 may become irrelevant quickly, the protest restrictions and the hysteria around mass protests will remain relevant as the date of the NATO meeting approaches.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."