Chicago, IL–The day after watching riot cops shoot rubber bullets and tear gas into a crowd of peaceful sidewalk chalk artists in LA, I bought the biggest box of chalk I could find. I had a feeling I’d be putting it to good use soon, and I was right.
Saturday night, there was an unofficial call put out on Twitter for friends of Occupy Chicago to Chalkupy in solidarity with Occupy LA. We have incorporated sidewalk chalk into other actions, most recently at the NATO summit protests and Occupy Independence on July 4th. We’ve also had confrontations with CPD, most notably when a Bank of America security guard called them out because a small group of occupiers was eating a donated dinner and chalking messages of hope and peace on a street corner in Chicago’s financial district. (In that instance, Streets and Sanitation came and power-washed it all away.) Luckily, though, we’ve never had the kind of violent reaction seen in LA.
The location chosen for Saturday night’s action was a section of Uptown that had been blocked off by the city that weekend for Ribfest. It was perfect for our purposes – the streets were closed, so we had a rather large canvas to work with. We were right outside a train stop, so there were plenty of people walking by to see our work. And the next morning the streets would be full of hundreds more who could be influenced, however slightly, by our messages.
As I parked my car nearby, I sent a message to the friend who had initially tweeted out the action to check exactly where everyone was meeting. When I glanced at my Twitter feed, however, I saw that he was in the process of being arrested. Whoops. He was charged with disturbing the peace for the chalking, along with another unrelated charge. Not the best start to the night.
After CPD got done threatening everybody else with arrest, they took him away and the rest of us continued chalking. Many people stopped to talk with us – most in support or out of curiosity, although a few were upset by our action. They said it was vandalism and illegal. They said it was a childish way to express ourselves. They said it wasn’t a proper use of our First Amendment rights. Of course, we disagreed. We tried to explain why but the few who came looking for an argument weren’t interested in listening, unfortunately.
Thankfully we had an overwhelming amount of support from others we spoke with. We moved to two other locations and had the opportunity to talk to many more people–including Ribfest security guards, who didn’t try to stop us at all but actually encouraged us to continue. They told us they agreed with our messages and pointed out open areas that we hadn’t chalked up yet. “You missed a spot over there!” they would say, pointing, a mischievous grin pulling at the corners of their mouths.
The only disheartening thing to me was the number of people walking by who refused to take the chalk I offered and leave a message of their own. They would say, “No, it’s okay, you write one for me,” or “I don’t really have anything to say.” I want to do this again, all summer, all over the city, but put a greater emphasis on getting non-occupiers to leave their own messages. I want to give a voice to the people of Chicago in a simple, easy, dare I say fun way. I want to fill our streets with the words and ideas, hopes and dreams of the people who live and work here. I want to show my neighbors that you don’t need someone else to speak for you, that you don’t have to ask permission to be heard, that it’s acceptable and even laudable to share your thoughts creatively and publicly. I want to empower others as I have been empowered by the Occupy movement.
In one of the hottest, driest seasons our city has seen, our messages are likely to remain visible for a while. But even when they fade into the hot, dirty pavement, our words will live on. After all, chalk is temporary – ideas are forever.