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Occupy LaSalle Street

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Occupy LaSalle Street: A First-Hand Account

Dick Johnson

A "Stand Up Chicago" rally, made up of unions and community groups, joins forces with Occupy Chicago protestors.

On Thursday evening, Your Ward Room Blogger had to go downtown to see a play. I had a few hours to kill, so I decided to see if there was a demonstration against economic inequality and unregulated capitalism going on. Just my luck, there was one forming at the corner of LaSalle and Jackson streets, just a few blocks from the Bank of America Theatre.

It was the biggest commotion I’d seen downtown since the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. Drummers pounded on plastic buckets, referee’s whistles shrieked, red flags of revolution waved, and demonstrators chanted “We are the 99 percent!” -- repeating the motto of a red and white banner stretched in front of the Board of Trade. A protestor was arguing with a young banker.

“If you don’t outlaw securitization of consumer debt, then we’re all screwed,” he shouted. “Because money is power, and the banks use money to buy politicians.”

In a crowd of hundreds, there were hundreds of opinions. “AUDIT THE FED,” declared one sign. “FREE THE ALABAMA 13,” declared another. “STOP KILLING DOLPHINS IN JAPAN,” declared yet another. A woman from Revolution Books handed out palm cards. The Challenge, a Socialist newspaper, was peddled for 50 cents.

Police mounted on bicycles tried to keep Jackson Street open during rush hour, but eventually the crowd took over, dancing with ribbons of caution tape, forcing an eastbound 135 bus to detour around the demonstration.

“Surround the Board of Trade,” someone shouted, and the demonstrators formed a human ring around the building.

“Keep moving,” an Occupy Chicago marshal in a yellow vest shouted through a megaphone. “We’re taking the whole building. If you’re already on the wall, I love you!”

The building taken, the crowd marched north on LaSalle, chanting “People Over Profit! Occupy Chicago!” and “Take Your Cuts and Go To Hell! Hey, Rahm Emanuel!” The police formed a bicycle wall between the cars and the demonstrators, guiding the march down Michigan Avenue, toward its destination: the horse sculptures in Grant Park.

Once they arrived, a marshal tried to organize a “General Assembly” -- a sit-down, talk-out meeting. She was shouted down by marchers who wanted to keep marching.

“Say no to the GA! Keep marching! Just because she has a megaphone doesn’t mean she’s in charge!”

“No more meetings! Take action!”

The marshal yielded to the crowd, which was already drifting north.

“Keep marching to Daley Plaza!” she shouted.

On the walk up Michigan Avenue, I talked with John Dickson, a marshal. Dickson is 22 and works for a company that develops curricula for schools.

“The main objective of (Occupy) has been to start a conversation,” he said. “We don’t necessarily have an answer to the problem, but us being here elucidates the problem. There’s a lot of skepticism and marginalization of the protestors, saying they’re 20 years old, without jobs. We’ve had a lot of labor unions join us.”

(The Laborers Union and the Amalgamated Transit Union took part in the march.)

“Everyone seems to have a different reason for being here,” I said to Dickson. “What’s your reason?”

“The primary reason for me is the undue influence of wealth,” he said, “specifically because people with more money have more sway in politics. The 1 percent controls 40 percent of the wealth. Money buys influence in politics. That means the 1 percent has 40 percent of the influence -- maybe more.”

“How long will these marches go on?” I asked Dickson.

“For the near future,” he said. “At least one year.”

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