Revolution Online, October 27, 2011

Occupy Chicago: Thousands Take the Streets, Hundreds Arrested

Revolution received the following report:

It's been no business as usual in Chicago's downtown Loop over the last month. On September 23, Occupy Chicago set up on LaSalle St. in front of the Federal Reserve. Occupiers have established a 24-hour presence on the sidewalks, often facing harassment from the police and being ordered to "keep moving." The occupation with its chanting, drumming and frequent marches has been a defiant statement witnessed by thousands of people daily. And it's been a magnet attracting hundreds to come down and join the encampment as well as participate in daily General Assemblies.

On the last two weekends, thousands converged at this occupation site and then took to the streets, streaming across the downtown Loop area to Grant Park to try to establish a "new home"—a larger, sustainable and permanent encampment. The marches were jubilant! There were contingents from colleges, including 30 University of Chicago students wearing ghostly Milton Friedman masks. (Friedman headed the Chicago School of Economics at Univ. of Chicago and is credited as a founder of neoliberal policies.) There was a contingent of "Masked Superheroes," high school students who say they patrol in their community to fight injustice. There were teachers, including from the Chicago Teachers Union. There were contingents of medical workers, people fighting against the shut down of mental health clinics, and more union contingents. 

Chants reverberating through the concrete canyons in the south Loop included: "We are the 99%," "Banks got bailed out, we got sold out," and "One, We Are the People! Two, We Are United! Three, the Occupation is not Leaving!" 

At the first rally in Grant Park on October 15, a huge American flag suddenly appeared over the heads of people in the center of the crowd. Hidden underneath it, 25 tents began popping up. After 11 pm, police began issuing orders to leave the park or risk arrest. Hundreds defied the order. People set up sleeping arrangements, got to know their new neighbors, and there was singing of songs and political debate circles. Only after 1 am when most of the crowd had gone home did police sweep in, cut down the tents with knives, and cart away175 people in paddy wagons and one commandeered transit authority bus. Occupiers arrested on October 15 (and from what we know those arrested on Saturday, October 22) were charged with a park ordinance violation.

On October 22, 2000+ once again marched joyously in the streets from the LaSalle St. encampment to Grant Park where a new encampment began to be set up. A highly visible sight was a large white medical tent put up by National Nurses United in order to provide medical care for protesters. Once again the police waited until after 1 am. They arrested 130 people, including the nurses.

Hundreds of protesters stayed for hours to witness and protest the arrests. Then many protesters went to the jail where protesters were locked up, staying for many hours on the sidewalk demanding the release of arrestees and cheering and hugging them when they were finally released.

These protesters as well as arrested nurses faced harsh treatment in jail. And they are speaking out angrily about it. They were kept for many hours—some through two nights—on a park ordinance violation. Jail guards refused to give people phone calls, their medications, or food for a long time. Jailers removed mattresses from their cells. One female protester who was challenging the mistreatment was pulled out of her cell and isolated in a small empty room with nothing in it except a hole in the floor to go to the bathroom, fully visible through a window in the cell door to any cop passing by. 

National Nurses United quickly called a protest at City Hall to expose the treatment of arrestees and demand that all charges be dropped against Occupy protesters.

In demanding an end to the arrests and attacks on the encampment, people are pointing out how what the police are doing clearly violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution on the right to free speech—how the right to free speech should trump the park ordinances being employed to suppress the protests.

The Chicago Tribune reported that the police were blocking the creation of a new home base for Occupy Chicago in Grant Park on orders from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who may fear the effect the encampment could have on the NATO and G8 summits scheduled for Chicago in May 2012.

Occupation at Midwest Wall Street

The Occupy Chicago movement has been both a defiant statement in the middle of the financial district as well as a magnetic attraction for many angry and inspired people from far and wide. Encampment occupiers march through the Loop everyday. They have protested the banks, evictions, police brutality and in support of California prison hunger strikers. University professors have brought journalism and political science classes to visit the encampment. Across the street in the shadow of the Board of Trade there have been regular teach-ins featuring prominent professors where people wrangle with questions like the relationship between corporate greed, human nature, capitalism, and Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto. John Carlos and Dave Zirin appeared on October 22 and talked about their new book, The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World. The hip hop trio Rebel Diaz joined Occupy Chicago that day also.

A community is being built right in the middle of the Wall Street of the Midwest. It has sustained itself under often harsh conditions of weather and police harassment. Teams of people organize meals, take responsibility for safety & security, and schedule educational events. Donations of food are being constantly delivered. A student from a nearby massage therapy school came down to offer massages for occupiers. And there is lively, intense political debate around lots of questions, big ones and immediate ones. Is the problem corporate greed and corruption, or is that symptomatic of a deeper disease? What kind of solution could solve humanity's problems and be liberating to human beings? How to have a participatory process of decision-making and solve problems in the midst of a lot of things coming at you and new people coming in all the time? How do you deal with rain and cold all night, and prepare for a Chicago winter? 

Many people talk about being inspired by the feeling of community, of working together instead of the isolation and self-centeredness typical of their experience. One of the occupiers posted the following expressing his/her vision and ethos: "The Occupy movement is different from anything that's ever happened in America before. It is not simply a protest, it's about building a community."

You'll find a wide range of people and stories here. Small businessmen and people who have lost their homes. People from farming communities and suburbs who have never been to a protest before. High school students from a Christian commune and unemployed university graduates.

A high school student who came in from a distant suburb alone talked about growing up in a home where her mother's whole world is Fox TV and how she phone-banked for George Bush when she was 10 years old. She said the problem is greed, and she's very concerned about the huge inequality affecting her family and everyone.

A group from the suburbs talked about how isolated they have felt and thinking they're nuts. After being at Occupy Chicago they felt they had met people like themselves, and they plan to bring more friends back.

A small contractor spoke about courage, telling about a formative experience where he witnessed firemen beat up an elderly man for lodging a complaint, and then how he backed down from witnessing after police investigators threatened him, and how he won't ever do that again.

A group of young women college students drove three hours to get to Occupy Chicago. One said, "Knox is a very liberal college. But because of the lies from the media, a lot of people don't know what's really going on. We talk about change all the time, but it's so exciting to be here and see people really changing things."

Many middle aged people talk about the horrors of the health care system and about how they worry that their children in college will be trapped in a life of debt they never escape from.

There's enormous disgust with the electoral process. This includes  both people arguing for campaign finance reform as well as many who feel that the current political process only makes people powerless and it's breaking out of this that is what gives the Occupy movement great potential.

Confronting Repression and Facing Big Questions

There has been great controversy over the role of the police.  Are police part of the 99% as a popular chant says, or is it that "the police are the instrument of the 1%" (reported by a local newspaper as a chant heard during arrests)? Protesters have appealed for the police to join the movement, and even chanted "pay raises for the police," as cops surrounded and prepared to arrest them.

Things have shifted around this. People are learning through their own experiences seeing the police shut down their encampment twice. Revolutionaries, prison activists, and masses with first hand experience have been getting into this question from various perspectives, including RCP supporters popularizing Bob Avakian's quote from his book BAsics on whom the police serve and protect: "The role of the police is not to serve and protect the people. It is to serve and protect the system that rules over the people. To enforce the relations of exploitation and oppression, the conditions of poverty, misery and degradation into which the system has cast people and is determined to keep people in. The law and order the police are about, with all of their brutality and murder, is the law and the order that enforces all this oppression and madness." (1:24) Revolution Books organized a teach-in on police brutality and criminalization of a generation, held at the LaSalle Street encampment and attended by 50 people. October 22nd National Day of Protest Against Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation was taken up by Occupy Chicago.

On October 22, as police prepared to once again carry out mass arrests and shut down the occupation, three young women jumped up on the huge stone planter box and called out over and over in unison—"We're Done! We're Spent! The Police Are Part of the 1%!" This challenged both illusions of fellow occupiers as well as political lines in the movement which act to hide essential lessons about who the state represents and how it functions.

At the showdown during the second attempt to establish an encampment in Grant Park on October 22, an unscheduled and heated public debate broke out during the rally. In the face of police orders on loud speakers threatening arrests in minutes, and in the face of fewer numbers than some organizers had anticipated, people debated about how to make decisions and what course of action to take. Protesters pulled together to make a decision and carry out a powerful civil disobedience.

Questions are being posed to the Occupy movement, and there are lessons to be drawn. For example, how to advance in the face of state repression, including by further exposing the illegitimacy of the system and unleashing broad new forces to act including by coming out into the streets. For revolutionaries there is a need to tackle new challenges and seize new openings to build the movement for revolution.

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