Last night, I spent some time with the Occupy Chicago movement.
Why did I join them?
... I think this movement is a concrete step to re-assert the voice of the common good in the discourse of our country
... I hope that the 10/22 action: "creating a space... where real democracy is possible," marks a transition from outrage to creativity
... I want to be a part of that journey
I thought I would take a few minutes to post some observations as an eyewitness to history last night. I will include some links to stories and media provided by others, to add perspective, but like any movement, the occupation is to be experienced, not observed. Nevertheless, as activists, we need to claim our story, so here is some of it:
Crowd gathers @ Jackson & LaSalle, estimated by CPD to be as many as 3,000 people. Biggest crowd I have seen in 29 days of occupation. Spirit of anticipation and courage among the crowd.
Protestors swarm Jackson heading east, once we take the street there is no hurry. People as far as eye can see in front of me and behind me, climbing on barricades and light posts to get pictures, police cars block traffic and all intersections. As we cross Wabash, an EL train is pulling out of Adams/Wabash station, driver slows train over Jackson, waves and thumbs up to the crowd.
CPD horses meet us at Jackson & Michigan, crowd enters Grant Park, confined to sidewalk, and thousand converge on the plaza where we intend to “set up a permanent community, in the hope of creating a space where constructive debate and real democracy is possible.” The intersection of Michigan & Congress, “Liberation Square,” is Occupy Chicago’s intended location for an ongoing presence, which has been denied by the city. Must-see video from one of the most remarkable moments of the night: http://youtu.be/5yKyICPJOKc Keep in mind, this began as 7 people sitting in front of the Federal Reserve!?
Occupiers flock to the Bowman Statue chanting “take the horse!” (see previous video, chant begins at 2:22) conjuring images of 1968: http://youtu.be/DqdM87_Lmv4 CPD wagons already parked ominously on the south and west side of the plaza.
Open mic begins for representatives of unions, students, and other groups/individuals with the coalition. Most moving were a Hyatt hotel employee seeking living wage and a mental health patient denouncing cut backs in services.
People begin to pitch a tent, way in the front of the crowd out of sight from the street (or so we thought), almost immediately, 25 police dart through the crowd for what feels like a premature and unwarranted confrontation. Movement is momentarily confused, tense showdown, mic is silent, then calling for legal help. Some begin to chant. People take down the tent, Police eventually leave, situation diffused. Ten minutes later, they re-assembled the tent, and I helped pitch another one.
I had left for a bite to eat and a bathroom break, my friends headed home. Out of curiosity, I return to the plaza where only a couple hundred people remain. Situation seems very tense and uncertain… police show up with bike racks, pushing folks towards the sidewalk, organizers form into a picket line. I’m not sure what’s happening, but I notice a crowd now across the street on the west side of Michigan Ave. I assume that an arrest warning has been issued. Turns out, park curfew is 11pm. I’m in the arrest zone! I fled out the north side of the park, asking cops what’s going on, “there have already been plenty of warnings.”
Cook County sheriff buses arrive and park on Michigan Ave both curbside lanes and median shut down, but two-lanes of traffic open each way, obstructing views and sounds from across the street. Picket line 200 strong still holding down the west sidewalk of the plaza, over 100 remain within barricade. Over 100 cops onsite, a dozen secure the perimeter with bike racks. Cops are responding differently to the situation, some tapping their feet to music, others bickering with the crowd on both sides of street, mostly just standing around.
Final police warning, all tents have been destroyed/removed except First Aid Tent with 2 nurses inside. Police tell picket line that sidewalk is subject to 11pm curfew. Since sidewalk is not park property, this was basically a lie, but it was repeated over a megaphone, and picketers concede part of the sidewalk to police, allowing more direct path for arrests. Picketers need to keep moving to avoid arrest for blocking sidewalk, even outside of barricade, on west and south side. Cops march into position and enter plaza from the north with zip ties.
Some confusion among the crowd. Some want to move to Thompson Center, others want to stay in solidarity with arrests, some want to start a drum circle and dance, others want to remain solemn with chants… compromise: we stayed and we danced.
I cross Mich Ave to potential arrest zone where picket line has held the perimeter now almost 2 hours. 300 strong on the sidewalk as the arrests begin: http://dissenter.firedoglake.com/2011/10/23/occupy-chicago-arrests-in-grant-park/
Pizza delivered to southwest corner of plaza, cops will not allow it past the barricade… we chant “let them eat!” until cops allow pizza to be given to the folks inside. Nurses in tent warned of arrest… we chant “healthcare is a right!” As it turned out, the volunteer nurses were the final 2 arrests, after their tent was taken down by police. Nurses nationwide are calling for a march on Mayor’s Office Monday morning: http://chicago.indymedia.org/newswire/display/95152/index.php
One activist asks to cross the barricade voluntarily joining the others. After the police question him crowd chants “let him in!” Activist is informed by police that inciting the crowd would be a felony, he turns to quiet the crowd and diffuse the situation. I did not see if he made it in after all.
Arrests continue. One of the loudest chants of the night: “Why would you arrest us? We’re fighting for your pension!” followed by “YOU are the 99%”
Moment of silence for the death of free speech in Congress Plaza. As arrests continue, this was incredibly surreal… the only quiet moment of the night.
Nurses arrested. I’m home, asleep.
I bike from church to Jackson & LaSalle, where occupiers are holding the sidewalk for Day 30. They tell me nobody has been released from prison yet.
At the CPD District #1 station @ 18th & State, I find a couple dozen activists on the sidewalk with a bunch of snack food and 4 news crews. As I watched roughly 20 protesters were released in small groups over 2 hours. There was major concerns that the desk sergeant was not accepting bail payments for at least 2 activists who had now been arrested for the second night, claiming they would have to spend a second night in jail, and see a judge on Monday. The social media blitz has been underway all day trying to get attention for the treatment of our friends in jail.
overnight + all-day, reports from prison:
“One of the holding cells with about 30 men had no working sink. Their requests were ignored for 5 to 6 hours....An epileptic girl needed her meds. We yelled for an hour before anyone came and then they ignored for another hour....We yelled for about sixteen hours to make a phonecall before they finally let some of us...This protester asked different police officers 86 times politely to make a phone call. Ignored all night.....
"We were given no food until noon today after yelling for hours they gave us a bologna sandwich.....Most of those of us who were in jail were not even allowed a phone call even though we asked for one repeatedly.....Two of the people who did get a phonecall report that the bondsmen were playing videogames instead of working on our paperwork....None of the men were given toilet paper for the past twenty hours."
Mayor, Rahm Emmanuel 312-744-5000
Governor, Pat Quinn 217-782-0244
CPD District #1 Direct Line: 312-745-4290