By Stefano Esposito and Michael Lansu
As men and women in evening wear sipped cocktails behind a high glass wall at the Art Institute of Chicago, a crowd in the thousands stood outside, chanting “Shame! Shame!” and hoisting signs denouncing corporate greed.
The “Stand Up Chicago” marchers came in five downtown streams Monday afternoon, converging into a river of frustration, anger and dissatisfaction outside the Art Institute’s Modern Wing, where a reception was being held for the Futures Industry Association, which is holding its annual Chicago Expo.
“People are mad as hell at these financial organizations that wrecked the economy, that caused this whole mess,” said Catherine Murrell, a spokeswoman for Stand Up Chicago, which counts some 20 Chicago community groups among its members. “They broke the economy, they played with it like it was a toy. It’s something you teach your children — you break it, you pay for it.”
Murrell said protesters numbered around 7,000, with groups of teachers, healthcare workers, college students and others reaching the Art Institute from five downtown locations. Police put the crowd size at about 3,000 people, and reported only minor crowd control issues. Charges were pending Monday night against one individual for battery to a police officer, police said.
In addition, 24 people were cited for being on the roadway, police said.
As the chanting marchers made their way south along Michigan Avenue toward Monroe and the Art Institute, they held up signs that read, “Banks Got Bailed, Englewood Got Sold Out,” and “Stop Greedy A–holes!” Even though traffic came to a halt on stretches of Michigan Avenue to accommodate the protesters, most folks did not seem to mind, including cabbie Samson Obadunke.
“I’m upset too,” Obadunke said. “We should do more of this [protesting]. If we got more jobs, more people would take my cab.”
As the protesters converged in the middle of Monroe outside the Art Institute, a kind of frenzied drumming began, with chants of “Whose streets? Our streets!” echoing up to the third floor, Terzo Piano restaurant, where guests mingled. Some guests peered down at the chanting masses and took photographs with their cell phones.
As a woman in high heels and cocktail dress headed into the art museum, a protester yelled: “The wine is cheap, just like your soul!”
The partygoer did not respond. Another protester then shrieked, “Save yourself now — you don’t have to go in there!”
By about 6:15 p.m., police had begun to clear protesters from Monroe, and the crowds began to disperse.
Murrell declared the protest a “wonderful” success.
“I started crying when I saw everyone come together — there is so much positive energy and hope,” Murrell said.
Murrell said her organization hopes to enact a tax on high-risk financial transactions that she says could raise $1.4 billion and generate 40,000 jobs.