At an August training session for Action Now, an advocacy group for the poor, Madeline Talbott, the lead organizer, handed out a copy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” an impassioned plea for “people of good will” to join the fight for freedom and human rights.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Dr. King wrote from his cell in 1963.
Ms. Talbott asked the 45 people in the room to read aloud a passage from the letter and then asked if they were willing to follow Dr. King’s call for nonviolent civil disobedience in the name of economic justice.
“Almost everyone raised their hand,” she said. “People are so fed up with the big banks and the foreclosure crisis and the do-nothing politicians. It seems like something is catching hold, and it really is different.”
On Monday, Action Now will join a coalition of 19 labor unions, low-income neighborhood organizations, teachers, students and other groups that is known collectively as Stand Up Chicago, which plans to demonstrate outside the Mortgage Bankers Association convention at the Hyatt Regency downtown and the Futures Industry Association meeting at the HiltonChicago on South Michigan Avenue. Organizers also expect at least 7,000 demonstrators to converge outside the Modern Wing of the Art Institute, where the mortgage bankers are scheduled to hold an evening reception.What impact the demonstrations will have remains to be seen. But it is clear that the youthful protests that began on Wall Street nearly a month ago have struck a chord with many financially struggling Americans and are spreading to cities across the country — including Chicago, where a group called Occupy Chicago has camped outside the Federal Reserve building in the Loop.
“When there was a Chicago fire, the city leaders rebuilt the South and West Sides,” Ms. Talbott said. “We’ve been hit by a second Chicago fire, the foreclosure crisis, but none of the politicians have a plan to rebuild. We can’t wait any longer. We have to act. We’re losing whole neighborhoods.”
The coalition plans to protest both conferences with a weeklong series of marches, demonstrations, street theater and, as some vow, civil disobedience. Lawyers are being consulted and bail money rounded up.
Willie J. R. Fleming of the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign wants to be more than heard. Although his group does not belong to the coalition, members of the campaign are planning to join the protest.
“The banks have disrupted our lives,” Mr. Fleming said. “We have to disrupt their events and plans.”
Erik Gellman, a professor of history at Roosevelt University, who studies political and social movements like the campaign for civil rights in the 1950s and ’60s, said: “I think it’s premature to predict whether this will develop into a mass movement. But what you see in Chicago and elsewhere is that people are empowering themselves and others and not waiting for particular heroes to come along and lead them.”
Spokesmen for the mortgage bankers and for the futures industry said they had no idea that their conferences would be targets of protests until a reporter from The Chicago News Cooperative called for comment.
“Like all Americans, I am proud to live in a country that embraces the right to freedom of speech,” John Damgard, president of the Futures Industry Association, said in a written statement. “We will treat the protesters with respect, and I expect they will do the same.”
The demonstrators occupying Wall Street and their Chicago counterparts occupying the corner of La Salle and Jackson have been criticized as being too vague in their demands. Stand Up Chicago has worked to avoid that assessment.
“We can’t have 10 different issues,” said Catherine Murrell, the coalition spokeswoman. “We’re trying to stay on message. The message is we are taking back our city, and we are taking back our wealth that has been distributed to corporations through tax cuts and bailouts”.
Ms. Murrell said the coalition was focusing on “jobs, homes and schools” and was calling for stronger legislation to maintain foreclosed properties and channel more money to schools through tax increment financing.
“Our ways of making a livelihood, the very homes we live in, our schools, have basically been taken away from us,” she said. “We want them back.”
On the eve of the protest, the coalition released a 27-page plan called “Investing in Chicago Communities” to create 40,000 jobs in the city and a 25-cent “speculation fee” to be paid by both buyers and sellers of derivative contracts, an investment vehicle. The coalition said the fee would generate nearly $1.4 billion a year.
Stand Up Chicago was pulled together in early 2011 and is housed in the West Loop offices of the Service Employees International Union, which has been a supporter of President Obama and other Democrats. Although the union helps support the coalition financially, Ms. Murrell said they were independent of each other.
Holly Krig, of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, which is planning a protest with priests, ministers and an imam during the bankers’ conference, said, “I think we’ve been betrayed by both political parties.”
Ms. Krig said her main concern was to ensure that after the week of protests, the members of the coalition continued “the hard work of base building, and developing leadership, to sustain this as a struggle.”
“It’s critical for us to work together,” she said.
“We have to get beyond narrow issues and vague demands,” Ms. Krig added. “We need to really get at what the core issues are that are pushing the inequalities.”