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Chicago Spring | Occupied Stories - Part 2

Tag Archive | "chicago spring"

99Solidarity Bus Day 4: March on Rahm’s House

Editor’s note: A version of this story originally appeared on Suicide Girls Blog. Part one of the story may be found here; part two is here; and part three hereYou can read more #noNATO coverage on Occupied Stories by clicking here.

The day started out so well. We began it with a hearty breakfast (our first sit-down meal in 4 days!), before heading down to the Occupy Chicago Convergence Center. The well-organized facility is located in the basement of Wellington Ave United Church, a branch of the United Church of Christ which is run by Dan Dale, a pastor that is sympathetic to the movement, and has gone above and beyond to help the cause.

By the time we got there, Occupy Wall Street’s Lauren had made herself at home in the Chicago occupation’s kitchen, and was serving up delicious breakfast burritos to anyone in need of sustenance. We spotted many familiar faces from the bus ride from LA milling around in the grazing area/community space, and met up with several personalities we’d conversed with on Twitter and seen on the livestreams over the past few months.

Our friends from OccupyLA’s #BaconBloc, whose mission is to push back against the overwhelming veganism of the movement, were busy planning an action involving candied bacon. We were also introduced to the mastermind behind Clown Bloq, which has been enjoying quite a lot of media attention of late. And while we awaited the bus, which was scheduled to take us to our next appointment, which used 99% Solidarity’s stamps to embellish our dollars bills with the meme “THE SYSTEM ISN’T BROKEN – IT’S FIXED.”

When our chauffeur arrived with his big ass bus, we headed to the back to hang with our new heroes, the Bay Area Nine, who’d been through hell and high water to make it to Chi-Town. Our destination was Homer Park, which served as a staging area for our scheduled protest outside the Ravenswood home of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Our aim, to exercise the First Amendments rights he’d tried so hard to quash outside his front door.

The atmosphere was jovial as protesters gathered in the park, greeting friends and rehearsing chants ahead of the march. The sun shone and the sky was blue, the only clouds on the horizon where the two omnipresent police helicopters, which hovered overhead.

As our procession made its way through the park, and then the streets of the upper-middle class neighborhood, the rotating chants du jour included, “Fight, fight, fight. Healthcare is a human right”, “Healthcare is under attack. What do we do? Stand up, fight back,” and “Healthcare not warfare,” echoing the sentiments of yesterday’s NNU’s Robin Hood Tax rally, which called for a minuscule tax on trades to pay for, among other things, true universal healthcare. It was indicative of our government’s current priorities, that they spent tax dollars on helicopters to police a march for something that more civilized countries already consider to be a fundamental human right.

While moving through the well-kept suburban streets, we were greeted with a surprising warmth by locals, who came out of their business and homes to watch our procession. Code Pink’s “MAKE OUT, NOT WAR” stickers proved to be popular with the young female activists of tomorrow that we met along the way. Other locals en route that I spoke to told me they thought what we were doing was “amazing” and wished us “good luck.”

There was a large police presence when we arrived a Mayor Emanuel’s home. Most were wearing riot helmets, and were armed with plastic zip ties, batons, and bikes – the latter serving as mobile barricades which physically barred us from stepping on the mayor’s front lawn. Not that we would have. The protesters were very respectful of the fact that it was a residential neighborhood. The chanting had mostly ceased, and the human mic was functioning at a suitably low volume.

Vendors were serving refreshing frozen treats from carts. Despite their clear capitalist exploitation of our political gathering, many protesters, including this one, were more then happy to indulge in their wares. Indeed, the scene was more than a little comical, as battalions of riot cops stood amidst flowering shrubbery, policing protesters who were milling around eating ice cream.

After making our point, the protester gradually dissipated. As I walked back to the train station I saw two ACLU legal observers, who were easily identified by their bright orange T-shirts, thanking a group of CPD officers for their mostly good natured and restrained job. When I engaged the ACLU staffers in conversation, they told me that given the size of the action, which spilled from the pavement and onto the street due to the sheer volume of people, and the fact that it was un-permitted, things could easily have gone another way.

I remarked that this show of restraint was likely prompted, not by the Mayor’s new found respect for free speech, but by the fact that he didn’t want to be portrayed as the bad guy on the world stage. After all, though the mainstream media was conspicuous by its absence at this action, many around the world had tuned in thanks to the feeds pumped out by Occupy’s ever present livestreamers. Little did I know, that in a few short hours these brave citizen journalists would become the prime target of law enforcement agencies.


– Nicole Powers

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Anti-Capitalist March: Brutality and Victory

Editors note: This is part of a collection of first-person accounts from #noNATO. Don’t let the corporate media speak for you, if you’re in Chicago tell us what you’re seeing. Submit your story

Chicago, Il -A march that officially started around 6:30pm, but at 3:30 for those who simply traveled from one march to another, was focused around an anti-capitalist theme. The group of protesters started at Lake St. and Desplaines in Chicago’s West Loop. Following the success of a large, vocal, and influential rally and march the day before organized by the NNU (National Nurses Union), police seemed to be extra determined to dampen spirits and the confidence of the protesters who were running mostly on adrenaline, and the solidarity from their fellow brothers and sisters.

Within five minutes into the march, we were met with a line of riot police blocking the street in front of us and the right, and all of them had batons in hand. The front of the march took off to the left in a frantic sprint and everyone followed. This set the tone for the rest of the night, as we continued to try to out maneuver the police as we were trapped several times, and continually threatened with the stalking presence of riot police and mounted police officers. At one point to escape being kettled, we ran across the corner of a small garden then through a parking lot.

Never did we feel comfortable, tension and stress were consistently present, and the hot summer-like temperatures weren’t helping our endurance. Even when we were allowed (practically forced) to travel down certain streets due to blockades we were constantly surrounded and trapped at any given moment making an emergency escape for anyone impossible in case things got bad, but nonetheless we all did the only thing we could do: march and chant our asses off.

As the march came to Washington and State St. once again protesters found themselves trapped. Several times before and often the amorphous group was conflicted in which direction to go, and at times considered turning around and going back the way they came. This time though it seemed as if they had had enough. They came to exercise their first amendment right, had been intimidated and bullied and instead of trying to outmaneuver the police would try to move straight through the police line.

At that point a shoving match ensued, but the police quickly upped the ante and started swinging their batons, beating protesters. I quickly backed up to the sidewalk as I anticipated things getting bad. It didn’t take long for a woman to emerge from the crown bleeding from the head, with blood covering about half of her face.

Video from the Anti-Capitalist March via natoindymedia on YouTube

Those in my affinity group were quick to act and form a wall in front of her as to not incite panic, as well as to block off the media. We were effective in allowing the street medics to treat her while maintaining a relative calm as to not draw unnecessary attention to the violent situation.

As the march continued we were successful in doing the one thing the city of Chicago didn’t want: marching on Michigan Avenue, the world renowned Magnificent Mile, and the premier shopping street in the city, that is filled with large groups of people drinking, dining and shopping. We were able to put on display in front of the public an uncensored view of what a protest really looks like instead of relying on the media conglomerates. People were in awe of the display of police force as dozens of riot vans and police vehicles stormed in to provide back up. The march was then trapped onto Michigan and Congress, the location of Occupy Chicago’s GA’s (general assembly meetings), but hundreds of people were able to see from the median and the sidewalk the absurdity of the police state and how it treats those wishing to exercise their first amendment right.

Months ago we were scolded, jeered, and even threatened by the public, but now it seemed that the mood was overwhelmingly in support of the protesters. Those of us who were separated from the march started chanting in solidarity and quickly got other non-marchers to join. Creative, witty chants brightened and rather bleak situation because it was here last fall that those in Occupy Chicago was mass arrested twice.

It was in this climactic moment that energy skyrocketed as the divide between protester and civilian was removed. There was an instantaneous realization that what was occurring was wrong, as if everyone had a unifying moment of empathy for the march that was being bullied by the police state. Once the march was allowed to continue up Michigan virtually all the spectators followed along side the sidewalk and some even joined in on the street.

The power of the people had been unleashed Pandora’s Box and there is no way to put it back in. The stage is now set for the NATO protests in the next two days, and if this day is any type of a sign of things to come, then history will be made and Sam Cooke was right all along: A Change Gonna Come.

-David (

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Day 3 on the 99Solidarity Bus

Editor’s note: A version of this story originally appeared on Suicide Girls Blog. Part one of the story may be found here; part two is hereYou can read more #noNATO coverage on Occupied Stories by clicking here.

Chicago, IL–After 50 hours on the road, and three days without a proper night’s sleep, tiredness was becoming a serious factor. Our ragtag group of activists, occupiers, and livestreamers had gathered in Pershing Square between 3 and 4 AM on the morning of Wednesday, May 16, and most, including us, had foregone sleep the night before in order to make last-minute preparations. The expected 4 AM departure of the three 99% Solidarity-organized and National Nurses United-funded Los Angeles occu-buses had been delayed for two hours while we awaited the arrival of the Bay Area Nine – a heroic group of Oakland and San Francisco occupiers who had traveled down via Greyhound after their direct ride to Chicago had been cancelled at short notice. It was therefore around 6 AM before we finally set off from Downtown LA.

Our journey time had been further extended by two separate cases of overheated-engine syndrome as we convoyed through the Nevada desert, and a minor medical emergency 100+ miles away from the Illinois state line. A few over-extended, but essential, pee and smoke breaks had also impacted our ETA. When we arrived at our final destination, a short walk away from Occupy Chicago’s Convergence Center at around 6 AM on Friday May 19, we were nearly half a day late. But despite the exhaustion, our spirits were for the most part high, boosted by the excitement of what was to come, and by the beauty of the city, which the majority of our group had never visited before.

As one of three designated bus captains, I hung around to make sure everyone was situated. Since the lateness of our arrival meant we’d mostly missed our accommodation opportunities for the night, some of our group decided to join other occupiers who were occupying Lake Michigan’s beach, some headed off to meet with friends, and the rest followed representatives from Occupy Chicago, who had kindly greeted us with an offer of breakfast, which would be served was soon as their Convergence Center opened at 8:30 AM.

With photos to edit and upload, and words such as these to file, I headed to a motel room which was serving as 99% Solidarity’s temporary base. Having been starved of a reliable internet connection for the past two days, there was much to catch up on, and very little time, since the march leading up to the NNU organized People’s G8 / Robin Hood Tax Rally was scheduled to star at 11 AM.

Following a shower, and a frenzy of emails, uploads, and social media posts, I grabbed a much-needed Starbucks, a liquid breakfast/boost being all I had time for. (Unfortunately, sometimes, corporate crack is unavoidable – and this was one of those occasions!) I met up with a core group of occupiers and activists at Michigan and Madison, and headed over to Daley Plaza with them.

As we made our way down E Washington, we admired the barricades which the Chicago Police Department had kindly laid out on either side of the street to make out of town occupiers feel right at home. Given the much-publicized increased police presence, which involved importing officers from several other states, the atmosphere was surprisingly relaxed. When a group of CPD officers wearing full-on riot helmets cycled past on bikes, at this juncture, quite frankly the sight was more ridiculous than threatening. But as we closed in on Daley Plaza, the police presence was far less frivolous.

It was heartening to see an impressively large crowd had turned out to support the nurses and their call for a Robin Hood Tax. These overworked and underpaid group of individuals are on the frontlines of the war against the working and middle class, and the breakdown of our economy is particularly salient to those who staff our emergency rooms. There is therefore a natural affinity between the goals of Occupy and the nurses union, who were among the first of the traditional labor organizations to support the fledgling alternative grassroots activist movement.

Another stalwart supporter of the Occupy movement is Tom Morello, who performed at the rally once the talk was done. He gleefully taunted Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who had attempted to silence the Rage Against the Machine guitarist by pulling the NNU’s permit after they announced he was scheduled to perform. The resulting public outcry having forced Emanuel to relent.

“I know damn well I’m welcome in Chicago” Morello said to the cheering and appreciative crowd. “The mayor’s office tried to shut this whole thing down…How ridiculous for the mayor’s office to think I would do anything to hurt Chicago? Chicago is my favorite city on the whole world.”

After Morello’s perfectly pitched mix of rhetoric and rebel songs, the rally dissipated. The nurses took to their buses, occupiers took to the streets, and, after another burst of essential online activity, this activist/journalist voted for sleep.

-Nicole Powers-


Visit the gallery at for oodles more images from the event.

To keep tabs on the progress of the Chicago bus trip and actions, subscribe to the 99% Solidarity media Twitter list and check in with us via the following livestreams:


Full disclosure: Nicole Powers has been assisting with 99% Solidarity’s efforts and is in no way an impartial observer. She is proud of this fact.

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Day 2 on the 99Solidarity Bus Trip

Editor’s note: A version of this story originally appeared on Suicide Girls Blog. Part one of the story may be found here; part three is hereYou can read more #noNATO coverage on Occupied Stories by clicking here.

Chicago, IL–Day 2 of our epic journey was very flat, but literally, rather than metaphorically. Having made it through Denver’s Rocky Mountains under the cover of darkness while most on the bus were asleep, we woke up to a spectacular sunrise as we sped across the border into Nebraska. There the terrain was level, very level, as were heads on our designated LA media bus.

California Dream Stream Team member OccupyFreedomLA conducted classes aboard the bus on livestreaming and social media. A veteran occupier, she also made sure everyone knew the local Chicago National Lawyers Guild number and also read out a briefing she’d been given on the Chicago Police Department’s provisions for press over the long weekend. The CPD “Ground Rules For Media” included these ‘highlights’:

No “cutting” in and out of police lines will be permitted, or “going up against their backs.” Those who follow protesters onto private property to document their actions are also will be subject to arrest if laws are broken. Any member of the media who is arrested will have to go through the same booking process as anyone else. Release of equipment depends on what part the equipment played in the events that led to the arrest…

There will not be any quick personal recognizance bond just for media members…

But police emphasized that those who choose to walk amid the protesters are “on your own.” The department cannot guarantee the safety of those who do so and cannot guarantee that they can extract any reporter who ends up the target of protesters.

That last line about reporters becoming targets of protesters was particularly inflammatory, and received the appropriate derisive response from our 99% Solidarity media crew, who though not impartial, were there to accurately report the news rather than make it with acts of violence. Indeed, everyone on board all of the 99% Solidarity buses had signed a pledge confirming their peaceful intentions, which was a pre-requisite for boarding.

Talking of peaceful, positive and progressive intentions, after members participated in one of the weekly Media Consortium Inter-Occupy press briefing calls, we had some great conversations on the direction of the movement over the course of the day – and some even greater ones with our bus drivers, who shared their thoughts on Occupy, which were all very constructive if not entirely supportive. Of the three drivers we’d had (who’d operated in shifts due to the length of our trip), it was our last driver who turned out to be our biggest supporter, somewhat surprisingly given his former occupation: though a former Marine, he shared many of our anti-NATO sentiments, expressing a frustration at our government’s overseas policy and treatment of veterans, which was naturally tempered by his loyalty to his fellow servicemen.

When the conversation died down, the documentaries Casino Jack and The United States of Money, about corrupt lobbyist (is there any other kind?) Jack Abramoff, and Exit Through the Gift Shop, about street artist Banksy and his accidental protégé Mr. Brainwash, kept our group entertained. The standard revolution diet of pizza, again, kept them sustained.

As we drove into Iowa, we were confronted by another spectacular sunset. Our livestreamers, who by now had their own designated hashtag #CaliDST, were getting quite competitive when capturing these.

A minor medical emergency delayed us for an hour just before crossing the Illinois state border. As we headed into Chicago almost 50 hours after our journey had begun, those on the bus let out a collective cheer as we spied the spectacular skyline. Another sunrise, this time over the waters of Lake Michigan, greeted us as we drove into the heart of the city.

Our buses stopped at Lakeshore & Belmont, just a few blocks away from Occupy Chicago’s Convergence Center. Local Occupy members kindly met us with promises of a much-needed breakfast as soon as the staging area opened at 8.30 AM that day. Most on the bus decided to take them up on their offer, not wanting to make history on an empty stomach. Indeed news of the protesters arrival in the Windy City in a fleet of 17 99% Solidarity/NNU buses had already made the news, with a photo of the first of four from NYC taking up most of the Chicago Sun-Times front page!

-Nicole Powers-

To keep tabs on the progress of the Chicago bus trip and actions, subscribe to the 99% Solidarity media Twitter list and check in with us via the following livestreams:


Full disclosure: Nicole Powers has been assisting with 99% Solidarity’s efforts and is in no way an impartial observer. She is proud of this fact.

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99Solidarity Bus Trip

Editors note: This story originally appeared on Suicide Girls Blog. You can read part two of the story here; part three is here. You can read more #noNATO coverage on Occupied Stories by clicking here.

Los Angles, CA – In the early hours of Wednesday, May 17, SuicideGirls embarked on an epic cross-country journey in solidarity with Occupy and the 99%. Our “occucation” adventure started out at the current home of OccupyLA, in Downtown’s Pershing Square, where we climbed aboard one of a fleet of three buses organized by Occupy affinity group 99% Solidarity and funded by National Nurses United. The buses are taking occupiers – for free – from Los Angeles to Chicago to participate in the various protests, rallies, and gatherings that are planned there to coincide with the NATO and G8 summits.

The Los Angeles to Chicago bus trip is part of a nationwide effort that will be the largest collaboration between the Occupy and union movements to date. Over the next couple of days a total of 17 buses from around 10 cities will converge, bringing approximately 800 occupiers to Chi-Town.

The organizers hope the bridge-building project will unite protesters and union members, who may have different philosophies but ultimately share common goals. They also hope the mass turnout expected over the course of the long weekend will send a strong message to the 1% and those that are supposed to represent ALL of us, that Occupy, despite losing most of its physical encampments, has not lost its way, and is a force to be reckoned with as the American Spring heats up.


Though the buses were scheduled to set off from Pershing Square at 4 AM, our departure was delayed by two hours to accommodate a contingent who had traveled by Greyhound from Oakland and San Francisco to join us. Once our NoCal comrades arrived, our three buses set out together in convoy.

As we headed up the I15 towards Vegas, the extended incline and the ambient desert temperature took its toll on the first bus in our fleet, which was forced to take a 15 minute ‘time out’ to cool down. This resulted in a very welcome – if unscheduled – refreshment, toilet and smoke break as we waited at a rest area for the ailing bus to catch up. It also provided an unexpected press opportunity, as our stop off and journey through Nevada made the Chicago ABC 7 News.

Our bus, which was at the rear of the convoy, was the designated media bus. It carried livestreamers OccupyFreedomLA, CrossXBones, TRWBS and CodeFrameSF (who was fresh from Occupy The Farm), and a group of passengers who had consented to be filmed 24/7. Those with cameras were dubbed the California Dream Stream Team, and the super-stream-lined vehicle, the Occupy Real World bus.

As we trucked on through Nevada via Arizona to Utah, most of the group took the opportunity to catch up on some Zzzs, our mass cat nap being roused by another minor case of over-heated engine syndrome and a second unscheduled stop. Once back aboard the bus, we watched Kristin Canty’s excellent pro-raw milk / real food documentary Farmageddon. A third necessary stop – this time planned – for a driver exchange, also served as a pizza-grazing opportunity (the highly deliverable dish being the standard issue hot-ish dining option for the revolution).

As we continued our journey along the I70 towards Salt Lake City, the sun began to set behind the rocky hills providing a stunning photo op for the media bus’ highly independent press corp. It made a nice change for the flurry of shutter clicks to be prompted by something of beauty, rather than a case of all too frequent police brutality.

Attention shifted from the stunning view however, when equally stunning news came in that the sun was setting on the most offensive provisions of the NDAA. As CodeFrameSF read a just-in Federal Court ruling, in which a the judge agreed that the unlimited detention without due process allowed by the extremely vague and open to interpretation wording of the NDAA was onerous and ultimately curtailed free speech, a spontaneous cheer erupted aboard the bus. This victory was not only one for reason – and our Bill of Rights – but one for Occupy, since one of the seven co-defendants in the case was Occupy London founder Kai Wargalla (see previous story).

Though the road trip at times has been grueling, news that true justice had prevailed in what had seemingly been a long-shot David vs. Goliath case raised spirits. Let’s hope our trip to Chicago continues to be a cause for celebration rather than confrontation, as the 99Solidarity road trip spreads a message of unity and continues its mission to inspire a critical mass to motivate positive change by way of peaceful protest. After all, as the Occupy saying goes, the people, united, can never be defeated – and we weren’t today!

-Nicole Powers-

To keep tabs on the progress of our 99% Solidarity Chicago Bus trip, subscribe to the 99% Solidarity media Twitter list and check in with us via the following livestreams:


Full disclosure: Nicole Powers has been assisting with 99% Solidarity’s efforts and is in no way an impartial observer. She is proud of this fact.

Posted in #noNATO, StoriesComments (2)

Whose Summit? The People’s Summit!

CHICAGO, IL – You may have heard the news: a small, friendly neighborhood organization known as NATO is holding a summit in our city.  I’m sure they wouldn’t mind it if you stopped by to welcome them to town.  I know I’ll be there to say hi – it’s the neighborly thing to do.

We’ve been discussing the NATO/G8 protests since the inception of Occupy Chicago, and it feels kind of surreal that the week is finally upon us.  In just 8 months we’ve grown from a ragtag bunch gathering in the financial district to a group capable of hosting a two-day event for hundreds of participants that drew media attention from every outlet.  Hell, someone working for the government was so concerned about Occupy’s influence and participation in the protests that the G8 summit was moved to a secluded military encampment.  One summit down, one to go.  Imagine what we can accomplish in another 8 months and beyond.

In response to the elite group of appointed (not elected) officials meeting in our city to plan global military actions that will cost the lives of untold thousands, we organized a summit of our own.  The People’s Summit (May 12-13) sought to explore issues we face both globally and locally while upholding Occupy Chicago’s core values of transparency, horizontalism, direct democracy, non-violence, and non-partisanship.  The schedule was full of speeches, panels, teach-ins, and trainings – as well as food, entertainment, and general good cheer.  The Summit was held in the converted warehouse at 500 W Cermak where we have been renting space since January and included services such as catering via Food Not Bombs, child care, and after-hours live music.

I missed the first day of the People’s Summit, but the reports I heard kept me eager to attend on Sunday.  It was incredible to see the halls full of people engaged in activism and hear the impassioned and intelligent conversations taking place.  As one of the active organizers in Occupy Chicago, I didn’t attend any specific set of events throughout the day.  Instead, I popped in and out of various panels and discussions to get a sense of how they were going and what needed to be done to facilitate a smoother ride.  I heard bits and pieces of discussions on Syria, Afghanistan, economic justice, workers’ resistance and more.  Most rooms were close to capacity, some standing room only.

This  panel-hopping allowed me to get an overall sense of the atmosphere and energy at the Summit, and can I say: WOW.  It’s powerful to see so many people coming together to discuss problems and solutions, dreams and goals, ideas and actions.  As important as it is to be seen in the streets airing our grievances, the movement’s lasting power will come from our ability to sit down to learn from one another and share our resources to create a better world.  This is only the beginning, but from what I saw this weekend, we’re off to an excellent start.

As the night wound down with a final workshop by one of our star NLG lawyers on how to (peacefully) disarm a police officer, I joined members of the Arts & Recreation committee who were working on banners for our upcoming week of action.  Luckily they are more talented than I am when it comes to drawing designs out, but I helped put down some paint and kept them company.  Lying across the floor with a fresh sunburn (thanks to an outdoor press liaison training), filling in bubble letters on canvas, I felt at home.  Occupy people are my people – an extended family if you will.  And I think we should have them over to visit more often.

Thanks to everyone who joined us in solidarity from out of town, and to all the Chicagoans who have put in countless hours of work to make this People’s Summit happen.  I’ll see you in the streets.

-Rachael Allshiny-

Editor’s Note: You can read more #noNATO coverage on Occupied Stories by clicking here.

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#Chicago Spring: A Day of Renewal

This story was originally published in The Occupied Chicago Tribune

On Saturday, April 7, Occupy Chicago began their Chicago Spring: the name of not just a day of citywide action, but everything planned for the next two months including protests at the NATO summit in May. The day itself was given the hashtag #TakeTheSpring on Twitter, a reference to the movement’s two attempts to #TakeTheHorse (i.e. camp out at Michigan and Congress), which led to 300 arrests and much debate about strategy and tactics. By the end of Saturday, there had been no camping, no arrests and little debate about one thing: With a conservative estimate of over 1,000 people participating, the first day of the Chicago Spring was an unqualified success.

The Occupy Chicago Press Committee’s Rachael Perrota had assured me beforehand: “Saturday is already a success. The diverse communities and groups participating, and the internal organizing structure that grew around A7, will be with us, and strengthened by this day of action, long after NATO has come and gone.” But of course, I had to see for myself.

A Necessary Win

Frankly, it felt to this observer (and to other people there with whom I spoke) as if Occupy Chicago was in need of a clear win.

A training/rehearsal in Logan Square shows how a foreclosure eviction might be blockaded. (Photo: Joe Macaré)

The movement had been thrown too many curveballs recently: The G8 relocation was a victory itself, but one that required plans to change and made some people wonder if the NATO summit protests will still be such a big deal. Plans for May were also complicated by the unsolicited assistance (or, depending on your point of view, attempt to hijack the Occupy Chicago name) by the magazine Adbusters. Even the unseasonably warm weather of the last few months seemed to throw the movement off balance: The indoor space at 500 W. Cermak, full of potential but also expensive and high-maintenance, was secured for a Chicago winter that never came.

There had been too many marches and rallies where the numbers seemed too low for a city Chicago’s size, too many understaffed committees, too many burnt-out and exhausted individuals. And too many internal debates: about Adbusters, about privacy, transparency and live-streaming, about the Occupy Festival, about the merits of the indoor space versus outdoor occupation. Some of them may have been necessary, but none of them were easy and many of them felt interminable.

Good Omens at the Eagle

The first indication that the day would be a success began, for me, in Logan Square, where Occupy the Northwest Side held an “Occupy the Eagle” action in front of the monument of that name. Local residents brought and accepted donations at a Give/Receive Circle, speeches included an impassioned and affecting call for solidarity from a representative of the Chicago Teachers Union, a mock auction sold off “the historic symbols of Logan Square and the Chicago Northwest side” to the highest bidders, and volunteers from a crowd of 50-60 people joined in an eviction blockade rehearsal/training.

Three pairs of CPD legs stand by near a chalk drawing in progress. (Photo: Joe Macaré)

If the morning’s action in Logan Square was dominated by the Eagle watching over Occupy the Northwest Side, then the afternoon of April 7 downtown included a menagerie of creatures. The main event of the Chicago Spring included a pig, a leech with the face of our mayor, some chickens, the Horse (of course) and whatever disreputable species of rodent Vermin Supreme is.If that all sounds distinctly carnivalesque, that’s as good a word as any to describe much of what went on in Butler Field and at Congress and Michigan on Saturday. This was, after all, not billed as a protest exactly, more of a coming together of communities and a celebration of people power. But there were plenty of serious moments: stories from speakers that were tragic and moving or that inspired furious anger.

And if some of that anger was channeled back into satire and surrealist jest, such as the display put on by Larry the Leech (Rahm Emanuel recast as a parasite who ate kittens and excreted candy that was then fed to the crowd—”Get used to eating that, there’s a lot more where it came from…”), well, so be it. Sometimes gallows humor and mockery are the only sane responses to the 1%’s absurd love of power.

From the Prison to the Park

I caught up with the march from Jackson and LaSalle as it headed down via Clark to snake under the El tracks at Van Buren. Participants stopped outside the Metropolitan Correctional Center, to speak out once again against the U.S. prison-industrial complex in the shadow of a very real, imposing example located right there in The Loop.

The march set off again, weaving its way north up Dearborn and then eastbound, filling the streets, a relatively small and ramshackle CPD escort doing little to constrain it. Already the diversity of what Occupy represents was in evidence. One man’s sign read ”restore Glass-Stegall,” but at the front of the march a scrappy group of Occupy Chicago members were demanding more: chanting the chant that culminates with “the whole damn system, shut it down!”

At Michigan Avenue, there was a moment made possible partly by Chicago’s unique layout: The march emerged from the shadows of downtown into the sunlight, seeming to escape from the city and fan out as it crossed into Grant Park.

I sent the only update to Twitter that came to mind:

“So this is totally fucking exciting.”

Occupy Chicago soapboxes, shortly arriving in Butler Field. (Photo: Margo Mejia)


The Real Occupy Festival

Once the march arrived in Butler Park, the energy was palpable. Some of the crowd focused around a rousing soapbox session, backdropped by an American flag.

Reading the Occupied Chicago Tribune in Butler Field. (Photo: Joe Macaré)

Others gathered to witness the Wishing Tree for the 99%, as yet unadorned by leaves (wishes), but already an impressive sight: A pastoral symbol made possible by modern technology, specifically Kickstarter (do I need to disclose I was one of the tree’s two dozen backers?).

Tables were set up, guides to the scheduled teach-ins, talks and performances were handed out, and Rebecca Burns from In These Times observed ”We’re in the milling-about-in-the-park stage of the day.”

Some just sat and enjoyed the sunshine while reading the Occupied Chicago Tribune. 

It’s hard to over-emphasize how much was going on in addition to the official program: People reconnecting, or meeting for the first time, impromptu musical performances, handmade art and literature being handed out, children being read stories under the Wishing Tree, and a painter capturing the scene and the Chicago skyline. Occupy El Barrio had brought along an enormous foam pig, representing capitalism and bearing the slogan “TAKE BACK THE FAT.” I couldn’t help but think that the Occupy Festival had happened after all, only without an entry fee.

At one point, a game of Capture the Flag was announced by a man with a bullhorn: “It’s anarchists versus communists!”

“What about Kropotkin-ists?” I asked. ”You can’t play,” was his deadpan reply.

I bumped into some time-travelling Founding Fathers—who are actually the online comedy troupe “I Made America“—and told them “You’re the last thing a British guy wants to see coming down the street towards him.”

“Oh no sir,” they assured me, “There’s no animosity anymore.” And then the one who identified himself as John Adams stepped forward.

“I was this country’s first ambassador to Great Britain,” he told me. “And I will be an ambassador to you, sir.”

Any event so diverse and welcoming draws a mixed bag of participants. There was also a man with a very large Ron Paul 2008 sign, wearing a Ron Paul 2008 t-shirt (“I’ll go back in time and vote for him,” quipped one occupier, “I know he doesn’t win”), and a fairly large contingent of Hare Krishnas—a benign prospect until they try to give you a book and recruit/solicit you.

“The Fight of Our Lives”

But of course, creating a space in which all kinds of people can come together to learn, play and exist for a moment outside of capital is only one aspect of the Occupy movement, and radical movements in general. The other is struggling against the realities being imposed by the 1%. A quick glance at the titles of some of the afternoon’s talks made it clear this was also being addressed as part of the Chicago Spring: ”This is What a Police State Looks Like,” ”The Crisis of US Capitalism,” “Mayor 1%’s Budget of Austerity.”

Rosie Carter from AFSCME Local 31 painted a grim picture of the situation facing public library employees under Emanuel. Her message: Librarians and other library workers have never seen it this bad, and they’re not sure how they can continue doing their jobs faced with the mayor’s open hostility to their union and commitment to cutting their staff and services.

“I think you’re still doing a great job somehow!” said the discussion’s facilitator.

This echoed a moment earlier in the day in Logan Square, where a speaker from the Chicago Teachers Union had said: “We’re in the fight of our lives… It’s a workers’ fight but it’s primarily a fight for our students.” (This, of course, is not what Emanuel, Jean-Claude Brizard or CPS want you to believe.) When she went on to make the impassioned plea, ”Please stand up for us… We feel like the world is against us,” someone in the crowd shouted: “I love you!”

Equally serious and urgent messages were shared by speakers including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Mick Dumke of the Chicago Reader(who railed against the futility, racism and economic waste of the city’s war on drugs), and Jitu Brown from Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO). ”Why is the Mayor closing neighborhood schools so aggressively?” asked Brown, before pointing out that these school closures have coincided with the loss of quality affordable housing in the same neighborhoods.


At the Horse, Food Not Arrests

The Wishing Tree arguably marks the point at which the urgency of these messages intersected with the creativity and playful spirit that characterized much of April 7. The messages people had written on its leaves (or sent online to be written) ranged from political demands to more personal tales of dire individual economic straits.

At the end of the afternoon, Teresa Veramendi from the Occupy Chicago Recreation and Arts Committee, an artist, playwright and poet and one of the tree’s creators, explained what will be done with the tree’s wishes. They will be distributed not to politicians wanting re-election—here Vermin Supreme stepped in to play the part of someone willing to promise anything to secure votes—but to the corporations and wealthy individuals who are those politicians’ biggest donors.

A "Freedom Chicken" is cared for at Chicago Spring. (Photo: Margo Mejia)

Vermin Supreme, incidentally, was the only person I saw yelled at by a member of the CPD, and this was for his inability to stay on the sidewalk during the subsequent march to the Horse—perhaps after all the most surreal sight of the weekend was this man with a rubber boot on his head weaving through a throng of police bicycles.

In front of the Horse, a vegetarian meal supplied by Food Not Bombs was dished up by volunteers. The only chicken in sight was in the form of live chickens somehow safely transported in a mobile Occupy Chicago Propaganda Committee information hub.

But before the Freedom Feast, in a moment of unfettered celebration at how well the day had gone, some of Occupy Chicago’s most recognizable participants—some of their leaders, because it is said that this is not a leaderless movement, but a movement of leaders—danced, accompanied by the sound of drums. Suddenly what were once protest chants became party anthems complete with dance moves. On “GET UP!” they sprang into the air. On “GET DOWN!” they dropped into a crouch. “THERE’S REVOLUTION IN THIS TOWN!”

“I haven’t seen some of these people this happy in a long time,” I told Evelyn DeHais, one of the organizers who worked on the event from its inception in late October.

“Me neither,” she replied, “and I’m one of them.”

-Joe Macaré-

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