By David Roeder Business Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org
They’ve been called disorganized, ragtag and unfocused. The Occupy Chicago group, which protests daily on La Salle Street, is all of that, and it might be their strength.
Members of the group said that since the movement is hard to categorize, it’s hard to attack. Its generalized nature may even make it more fearsome to the corporate leaders and Wall Street bankers that are its primary targets.
On Monday, several hundred Occupy Chicago supporters congregated and marched at any given time at La Salle and Jackson, in front of three conveniently placed targets: Bank of America’s Chicago base, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and the Chicago Board of Trade.
They were loud but orderly. Plans called for the marchers to join other protesters — local unions with their own grievances — who’d gathered at Daley Plaza, the Federal Plaza, the Hyatt Regency and Hilton Chicago to converge at the Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Wing.
There was a risk of different groups with their own agendas further muddling the protest message.
“It’s a risk worth taking,” said Marshall Stern, host of the program Awakened America on the progressive talk station WCPT-AM and a promoter of the rallies. “This is not a traditional movement.”
Protesters described the movement as “leaderless” as if that’s positive. They said they hope the numbers they can put on the street and the spontaneity will shake up a political system beholden to wealthy interests.
And in Chicago at least, they are gradually finding a voice. While the New York protest has been criticized for its catch-all grievances, the Chicago version settled on a platform that was approved Saturday at a “general assembly,” an exercise in direct democracy.
Leading off a list of 12 points was a wonkish one, a demand for the reinstatement of the federal Glass-Stegall Act, which kept banks out of the securities business. Its repeal in 1999 was a precursor to the financial speculation leading to the housing bust and a deep U.S. recession.
Occupy Chicago also wants a repeal of tax cuts for the rich enacted under President George W. Bush, prosecution of “Wall Street criminals” and a big bank write-off of student loans, among other points that are listed at occupychi.org.
Protesters said they joined the movement because it was expressing resentment they’ve felt about economic injustice. They said the Tea Party started out that way, too, but was hijacked by corporate interests.
“I found Occupy Wall Street on YouTube and I said, ‘This is what I’ve been talking about for years,’ ” said Brendan Tooker, a student and a bakery worker.
Some waved placards at the Board of Trade while confessing they have little idea what goes on there. Others called for liquidation of the Federal Reserve or a “bailout” for the unemployed, paid for by higher taxes on corporations.
Many would be surprised that within the Board of Trade building, their views are not automatically condemned. “I went out there and talked with them, and they’re not clear about what they want. They need to come up with a plan,” said Bob Winslow, a software developer at the Board of Trade.
Bob Meara, a broker, said the protests are “foolish” and are being manipulated by outside groups. He also said the emphasis on attacking banks is wrong.
“The banks are under heavy regulation now. It’s why they can’t make loans,” Meara said.
But he agreed that the government has let Wall Street off the hook, in contrast to prosecutions that grew out of the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s.