#StopITOA: Shining A Light On Militarization

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Today, we have joined a community coalition that has shut down Michigan Avenue in protest of The Illinois Tactical Officers Association (ITOA) conference, which began today just outside the city. The conference is happening in the suburbs, tucked away from the public eye. So we are dragging the reality of militarism back into the light.

For those who are unfamiliar:

“The Illinois Tactical Officers Association (ITOA) is holding its 29th annual conference, a five day long SWAT training and weapons expo. This year, the ITOA conference is taking place October 9th – 13th at the Stonegate Conference and Banquet Center in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, just one hour outside of Chicago. The Chicago Police Department has a history of collaborating with ITOA for tactical training, and ITOA has a long-standing relationship with the Cook County Department of Homeland Security.”

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The US military and its various congressional tentacles have consistently created new fronts of struggle, with no discernible agenda but to escalate the military’s already astronomical budget. Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s endless cycle of violence, excess and error remains inextricably linked to the oppressions we face within the confines of the United States.

In recent years, the US war machine has increasingly directed its wares inward. In a country where the marginalized have reignited mass movements, further militarization is to be expected, and Chicago’s own experience of this phenomenon has been especially noteworthy.

As the #StopITOA page  states:

“While Chicago is still reeling from budget cuts that have resulted in the closure of over 50 public schools, mental health clinics, and severe cuts to social services, the city spends over $4 million a day on the Chicago police alone. ITOA is directly involved in training and arming those police, even using empty school buildings as training grounds for Cook County officers.Weapons manufacturers from around the world also use ITOA to sell military-grade equipment to local police forces–equipment that shocked the country when it was deployed against civilians in places like Ferguson, Minneapolis, and Baton Rouge (and is used regularly by repressive governments such as Israel).”

In a world where the oppressions of those most victimized by state violence, at home and abroad, have been ignored, erased — and as marginalized people, have been forced to watch as their grievances are trivialized and ignored — Lifted Voices believes that militancy is our only viable option, as is the complete and total abolition of the prison industrial complex.

Simply being part of a community that would undertake such an endeavor is, in of itself, a victory. This coalition was largely built within the margins and at the intersections of our oppressions. Native organizers, Black freedom fighters, Palestinian organizers, anti-deportation activists, white accomplices and overall anti-militarization groups have all joined this effort. In the words of Lifted Voices co-founder Camille Crawford, a Black-Indigenous woman, “We just can’t get free without each other.”

In Lifted Voices’ own opposition to militarization and ITOA, we believe we are acting in solidarity with communities across the country, and outside those borders, such as Palestine, that have been ground under by the webwork of the US war machine. We celebrate their rising resistance and endeavor to act in solidarity with them.

From #NoDAPL to Charlotte, and from Chicago to Palestine, we know that all of our struggles are connected. Our oppressions are distinct in nature, but we are all fighting the unchecked escalation of militarism. The normalization of this state sanctioned escalation is both social and political, and it demands unapologetic interruption.

In spite of significant acts of intimidation, we will not back down in the face of those who actually train police to wage war on oppressed communities. They are arming occupiers, at home and abroad, and their harms must be named and drug into the light. We cannot allow police to believe that break-ins and other acts of repression will suppress community action, and we must not allow state violence to be further cultivated in the shadows, and launched against us at will.

Today, we are taking action to reiterate our demands, affirm who we are and declare our intentions.

We will continue to organize. We will continue to resist. And we will do everything in our power to expose, defund and deconstruct all mechanisms of state violence. Because we were born as clenched fists, and we are survival made material.

In solidarity,

Lifted Voices

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The campaign to #StopITOA is endorsed by:

Assata’s Daughters
For The People Artists Collective
American Friends Service Committee – Chicago
The People’s Response Team
Lifted Voices
War Resisters League
Council for American Islamic Relations – Chicago
Organized Communities Against Deportations
Black Lives Matter – Chicago
Students for Justice in Palestine – Chicago
Arab American Action Network
Invisible to Invincible: Asian Pacific Islander Pride of Chicago (i2i)
Center for New Community
Anakbayan – Chicago
Iraq Veterans Against the War
Stop Urban Shield Coalition
National Lawyer’s Guild – Chicago
National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance
Black and Pink – Chicago
Jewish Voice for Peace – Chicago
Showing Up for Racial Justice – Chicago
Chicago League of Abolitionist Whites

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