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Day Four of the Strike & Rumor of an Agreement | Occupied Stories

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Day Four of the Strike & Rumor of an Agreement

Day Four of the Strike & Rumor of an Agreement
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Editor’s note: This story originally appeared at Simone and the Silver Surfer.

Chicago, IL–My new morning ritual—two Motrin with a handful of vitamins and my reflux medicine. I stretch my sore body. My Achilles’ tendons have joined in on the ache parade. My lower back, ankles and knees all feel like hardened mush beneath a thin layer of skin. I eat a bowl of almonds and dried cranberries and chopped nectarines. I want coffee but don’t want to risk waking Simone, so I go without. The sunscreen forms white inkblots on my forearms.

The same indigo sky, the same stretch to school on my bike. Traffic is light. I make good time. Much of the group is there. We’re a raggedy bunch. Still smiling through. Daryl’s brought his son, Jawan.

The sun appears. Signs are passed out. We head across Potawatomie Park, the grass freshly mowed. Above, dark clouds in the distance head in our direction. We station ourselves on Clark and Rogers. We stand on opposite street corners. Leah seems indefatigable; she dances and waves and smiles. Stu leans against a pole and toys with his iPhone. His dog, Trevor, is happy to be at his side.

Behind us a street vendor sells champurrado and hot horchata.

The morning is warm for a short time and then the weather changes. The dark clouds move nearer. Soon, it is cold.

We’re slaphappy. We’re tired. Some of us seem bored. Kris has a fit of hysterical laughing. Melissa sings the entire song of Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week,” while Katie and Hannah and Abbey listen on.

We’re chanting less. We break into it here and there. The sky is now gray. We hear a rumor that the city is towing cars by the school. Daryl and I head back. He’s in a bad mood.

“I’m just sort of cynical about things right now,” he says. He has a show tonight. He looks tired. The sky is amazing. The storm clouds are a pastel blue. There’s a clear line of demarcation where the storm begins.

The cars are fine. Lena moves hers anyway. Better to be safe.

A scruffy lineman in a worktruck at the end of the street asks me how it’s going.

“I think they’re close,” I say.

“Is it about tenure?”

“Not really,” I say. “It’s a whole bunch of things. Our paraprofessionals are part of the union, and CPS doesn’t want to give them the same raise they’re giving the teachers. That’s just one thing.”

“I’m a union guy,” he says. “If those politicians weren’t such fucking thieves all the time . . .” he trails off. I thank him and move on.

Daryl drinks a grape juice. His spirits improve. Nothing like fructose to buoy the spirits. “Cornel West gave us a shout-out last night,” he says. “And they weren’t even speaking of this situation.”

We return to Clark and Rogers. It is a honking paradise. Almost everyone waves or nods or honks or offers a fist in the air. We feel the love.

I wonder why we’re getting a better reception here than on Sheridan.

“It’s because,” Sheila says, “they’re no Evanston and Northshore people on their way downtown.”

We talk in an information loop. Everyone agrees on everything. There’s an arc to a strike, and part of the trend is a conformity of opinion. I find it disturbing. I prefer the texture of spirited disagreement. It keeps the mind sharp.

We continue to circle back to waving and chanting. Across the street, some of our staff sit in folding chairs. It almost looks like they’re waiting for a parade.

Jawan and I speak of horror movies. He’s only 15 but a budding cineaste. He’s already made the big jump; he can see the value in movies he doesn’t like.

The “Things Rahm likes,” game moves through the group. Someone says he likes Coldplay; this irks me. They aren’t a bad band at all. Daryl agrees. “X & Y is a great record,” he says. “Come on.”

The game evolves. We turn it salacious. We make up rumors about the mayor. “Did you know,” S— says, “that Rahm bronzed his foreskin and keeps it on his desk?”

I rut in the gutter for a while. I tell little anecdotes about the mayor’s sexual proclivities. “And then,” I say at the end of each little story, “he puts his clothes back on and goes back to work.” It gets some laughs.

The best rumor we can think of is that Rahm produced the “Two Girls, One Cup,” video. We tell others.

“What’s ‘two girls, one cup?’” Hannah asks.

Somehow, amidst the picket and struggle, among the exhaustion and the fatigue, I find the strength to tell her.

We walk down to Alderman Moore’s office. He isn’t there. We mill about on the sidewalk, take a few pictures, while Liz and Maggie ask Moore for support, both now and when this hot mess is over. The morning’s work is done. With plans to meet in the afternoon, we all depart.

2.

Beth and Pearl and Simone are in better spirits. Simone had music class and is happy. I brew some coffee, make some lunch. Simone watches Sesame Street. I lie down to nap but Pearl is in a fidgety mood. I nod off for a little while anyway.

I wake up and dress.

The Tribune reporter calls, informs me that they killed her story. She asks me for a response to the end of the strike. “Was it worth it?”

“I don’t know yet,” I say. “I hope so.”

I leave for downtown at 2:45. The day is cloudy and gray, chilly but with occasional rays of sunlight, the kind of day I love. I don’t look anyone in the eye; I’m too tired for confrontation.

I hear the El stopping above. I sprint on tired legs up the escalator. I make the train. I sit in an isolated front compartment. I can’t control my foolish thoughts. They drift above the passing rooftops. Soon I am in a second heroic daydream. I’m arrested by the police, the union send in a lawyer, there’s a big trial and after I give a stirring speech the city is redeemed. I get a medal. Someone throws a banquet.

I’m embarrassed by my own silliness. I vacillate between the macabre—I often mentally recite obituaries of my family and friends, or imagine losing my loved ones—and the absurd. Such as the hero dream above. The human mind is a bizarre muscle.

I snap out of it. Downtown draws near. I exit at the Merchandise Mart, walk over the river and turn left on Wacker. There aren’t many protesters. I’m apprehensive. Was the event called off? Or did everyone else elect to stay home?

A few more red shirts here and there, and soon there are dozens of us. I should have stayed home. I turn the corner to Michigan. Tens of thousands of people on the upward bend. It’s a glorious sight.

“That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve seen all day,” the old timer next to me says.

I make my way past the blue police barricades to the protesters. Gawkers take photos from the balconies on the Hyatt and other buildings that limn this stretch of Wacker. I stand on the median, look for my friends. It’s the same festive atmosphere with drum lines and picket signs and smiling people. There’s a high school marching band. I find Bill, Ana, Daryl, the rest of our school staff. I see Jonathon, too, but after a quick embrace he moves along with his colleagues.

Bill’s energy remains. He leads us in numerous chants. He jumps. He gyrates. He dances. He sings. His voice is hoarse. So is mine. We’re soon in the thick of it. We pass a drumline, we dance, everyone is dancing, the thing feels right and true.

We keep circling; they haven’t opened Michigan Avenue yet. A man passes out red plastic ponchos in case of rain.

We’re interviewed by Maggio News. Neither of us know who they are[1]. I try to answer calmly, but Bill rips into his high-energy spiel. “We’re out here fighting for working people,” he says, “we’re protesting the inequality of our schools, we’re fighting for every Chicago public school student.”

The best I can do is: “I don’t like Arne Duncan.”

We move on. I see Daryl limp up the stairs. The physical demands of this thing are immense.

Schools hold up banners. Vuvuzelas buzz. Trumpets blare. Drumskins beat. Bill continues his thing. He has the energy of five people.

“You’re amazing,” Ana says to Bill.

“It’s thirty percent self-serving,” he says.

We laugh.

3.

The march begins and soon we are on Michigan. “Get up, get down, Chicago is a Union town!” we chant over and over, raising our hands on the up and leaning forward on the down. Three helicopters hover in the distance. Bill and I intermingle our chanting with talk of movies, cooking, babies. We move through a number of old union songs. We sing “Solidarity forever.” We chant “Hey hey, ho ho, crowded classrooms got to go!” We yell, “Show me what Democracy looks like? This is what Democracy looks like!”

Handheld megaphones bolster tired voices. Two marching drums run with baseline rhythm. Thousands of protest signs bounce up and down. Hand-painted banners on wooden sticks. Love and camaraderie and common purpose.

A figure raises both hands out the top story window of one of the high rises. We respond with a loud cheer. A second figure hangs a Che Guevera sign out an open window. This too, strangely, gets a loud cheer.

We pass the Art Institute. Some Occupy Chicago people have set up a sign. We walk. We chant some. We’re almost done.

Bill bemoans the tepid response from his liberal friends. I concur. He says he thinks it’s that Union has become a dirty word. I agree. He’s stayed away from too much talk with his family. Me, too. The whole issue is emotionally and politically charged. It’s damaged at least one close friendship already. He admits the same.

We’re too close to it, others are too far away.

We’re too tired to stay on one topic for long. We both speak elliptically anyway; it’s one thing we have in common.

“What’s your favorite Cassevetes?” I say The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. He says A Woman under the Influence. We’re too tired to press our cases. At the end of the march, we break off from the protest. We’re soon two red-shirts amongst the downtown set.

Beth calls. I’ve taken both sets of keys; she and Pearl and Simone and Jack are effectively locked inside the house.

“Why don’t you just leave the doors unlocked?” I offer.

“Are you crazy?”

Bill departs for the Blue line with a hug. I want the strike to be over, but outside the protests I don’t know when I’ll see him again.

I stop in at Beth’s dad’s office for more homegrown tomatoes. Away from the energy of the crowds my body begins to give in to fatigue. The elevator ride is interminable. The gold inset patterns on the walls seem to move.

I hurry home. I carry the tomatoes gingerly, hoping this time to keep them safe. The train is crowded but I can breathe. The people around me fool with their smart phones. I feel gangly, skeletal. Another protestor stands next to me. Oddly, he’s wearing a shiny knight’s helmet. We’re too tired for small talk. I don’t even have the energy to compliment his headgear.

I make it home at quarter to seven. Simone is cracking eggs with Beth into a mixing bowl. Beth looks frazzled, she’s had both daughters all day, and she’s a teacher, too. Bad portents loom. Simone has a slight fever. Beth’s grandmother is in the emergency room. But it all ends well. Simone goes to sleep without fighting. Beth’s grandmother returns home in good health.

We don’t have the heart to listen to anymore news. We make a promise not to speak of the strike, politics, anything acrimonious at all.

It’s a good deal. By 10 I’m too tired to write anything of the day’s events. We watch the second half of Roman Holiday. Watching Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn gallivant through the streets of 1950s Rome, the money worries and media battles and marching and protesting and singing and hardship, the pernicious poverty on the west side and south side and marbled throughout the middle, the gang violence and the presidential election and the embassy attacks all seem light years away.

We’re nestled into our safe little cocoon. My children are sleeping.

Day four is over. I take Jack out for his nightly ablutions, brush my teeth and get into bed.

Day five, we hope, will be the last.

-Ben Beard-


[1] We learn later that they are a far right “news” website. As Bel Biv Devoe said, you got to live and learn.

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