CHICAGO | Thousands of people marched Monday afternoon through the streets of the Loop to try to get lawmakers and corporate interests to listen to their concerns about the economy and the direction the nation is headed — an action one Portage man said is absolutely essential.
“We’re going to make them listen,” said Bill Kalin, who was one of several United Steelworkers members who work at the mills in Gary and participated in the Chicago protest, one of several across the nation.
Kalin said he thinks too many people are willing to ignore the suffering caused by the economic struggles of recent years.
“Too many people have lost their jobs. How can we not take the time to do this?” Kalin asked. “But they don’t seem to want to listen to us.”
The Northwest Indiana union members were among a group that held separate marches through downtown that converged on the Art Institute of Chicago, where protesters sat in Monroe Street while about two dozen people risked arrest by temporarily blocking the building’s entrance with their interlocked arms. Inside the museum, a reception was being held for members of the Futures Industry Association and the Mortgage Bankers Association.
Chicago Police Department officers on horseback, bicycle and foot stood by, making sure protesters did not block foot or automobile traffic.
Police would not venture a guess as to the crowd size, but organizers estimated attendance at about 4,500 people, which fell short of the early estimates that 10,000 would attend.
“We really don’t know how many people came,” protest spokeswoman Lenda Mason said. “A lot of people came on their own. It’s a big crowd, but a peaceful one.”
Officially, the protest’s theme was that government policies unfairly benefit large corporations and wealthy people. But individual protesters had a variety of causes to discuss, as they talked of issues ranging from homelessness to the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. One woman carried a picket sign objecting to the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.
One of the biggest presences was the Chicago Teachers Union, which had about 1,000 members participating to express disgust with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s desire to lengthen the school day without providing teachers with greater compensation.
Union President Karen Lewis said she was pleased to have her union’s cause represented. “I’m honored to be surrounded by people who care about this city,” she said.
Protesters carried signs with slogans such as “Dear Government, I want my future back” and “Silly Rich Guys, TIFs are for kids.” TIFs are tax increment financing districts.
One group that walked from the Chicago Board of Trade to the museum was led by the uniformed marching band from Morgan Park High School on the Southwest Side.
Those marchers encountered gawkers who snapped photos with their cameras and phones, and a few who screamed taunts such as “Get a job!”
Protester Serlina Perry, of the North Lawndale neighborhood, said she thought the protest was necessary at a time when conservative activists denounce criticism such as theirs as “class warfare.”
As Perry put it, “Hell yeah, it’s class warfare, but they started it. We’re just defending ourselves from their attacks.”
Similar protests have occurred in other cities across the country in recent days. Some in the Chicago crowd took aim at President Barack Obama.
Carrying a sign that read, “Obama, Do You Care?,” Linda Foster of Evanston said, “I want him to stand up to the corporate interests. Those of us who eagerly voted for him are disgusted that he won’t tell them, ‘No.'”