By Curtis Black
It’s been a remarkable week in Chicago, a nonstop whirl of protests targeting the financial industry and government collusion with corporations, and demanding action on jobs, housing, and schools.
Occupy Chicago gets much credit for capturing the public’s imagination – and for their 24-7 commitment and important organizational innovations. But it was community groups and unions that staged some of the most dramatic and creative actions here this week.
“It’s an amazing convergence,” said Adam Kader of Arise Chicago.
It was Rev. Patrick Daymond of Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation and others who “embedded” themselves in an MBA session and took the floor there. “We asked how they could sleep at night,” Dayden said, according to Progress Illinois. “We asked how they can show their faces in Chicago knowing the devastation they have brought to our communities.”
On Tuesday, it was Action Now members who dumped garbage taken from a foreclosed, bank-owned inadequately-secured West Side home on the floor of Bank of America (five women aged 56 to 80 were arrested in the action).
Also Tuesday, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council members boarded up a vacant home owned by JPM Chase and brought a bill for the work to the bank’s downtown office; Albany Park Neighborhood Council members protested at the Chicago Association of Realtors. SOUL members were arrested trying to enter the MBA conference.
Outside the MBA meeting, members of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs erected a sukkah, inviting MBA participants inside the ritual shelter (constructed for Sukkot, the holiday which marks the Israelite’s period of homeless wandering in the desert) to hear personal testimony from victims of the housing crisis.
Members of SOUL were arrested trying to enter the MBA conference.
On Wednesday, it was the Grassroots Collaborative which set up a giant Slushie – symbolizing the use of TIF as a corporate slush fund – and then held a “corporate welfare” trolley tour of downtown TIF subsidy recipients.
Also Wednesday, 100 teachers marched through the lobby of Bank of America, demanding the bank renegotiate “toxic rate swaps” they say are robbing Chicago schools of millions of dollars.
Thursday there was a series of protests at low-wage employers – and in the afternoon, Stand Up Chicago set up a casino outside the Chicago Board of Trade while demanding a financial transaction tax to pay for a Chicago Jobs Fund (discussed here last Saturday).
“It feels different,” said Kader, who’s been involved with Stand Up Chicago in planning the week’s actions – timed for two financial industry summits – for several months. “In the past we would turn out our members,” but this time he’s been struck by the number of unaffiliated folks and passersby joining in. “There’s something out there, and we just have to say here’s a time and place to come together.”
Media attention was notably greater than past protests – for example, see this Newstip on “anemic” local coverage of NPA’s 5,000-strong demostration at the American Bankers Association here in October 2009.
Only Mary Bottari of the Center for Media Democracy notes another convergence, tying the week’s protests to Mayor Emanuel’s efforts “to balance budget deficits on the back of public workers.” (She also notes the recent revelation of Emanuel’s role as White House chief of staff in dissuading President Obama from his initial inclination to break up big banks, which progressives argue became dangerously oversized after the wall between commercial and investment banking was torn down in 2000. Since then they’ve gotten bigger.)
What happens now? Van Jones of Rebuild The Dream sees a period of “innovation and improvisation.” He tells Alternet that Occupy Wall Street “is a huge, big deal; there will be other huge, big deals. There is a big thaw happening. People have gone through a grieving process, and people want to fight.”
“The economic crisis [will get] worse,” says Jones, and “you’re going to have a lot of people suffering due to the economy. That’s going to create a need for a response….That’s going to be a driver of innovation, the economic crisis. People have to eat. People have to live indoors. People aren’t going to just lay down and die because Wall Street wants to hold up the economic recovery.”
His group has called for nationwide actions – leaving the details up to local groups – on November 17 on the theme of “jobs not cuts.” Before that, according to Think Progress, a new group has called for actions around the world to “demand true democracy” – on Saturday, October 15. They report actions planned in over 800 cities in 71 countries.
And they’ve posted a short video highlighting the year in protests: Tunisia, Egypt, Spain, Greece, Israel, New York. Who knows what’s next? And as Phil Rosenthal points out in the Tribune, “one can only imagine what will greet visiting leaders in Chicago for the G8 and NATO summits next May.”
Take Back Chicago shows what can happen when diligent, energetic organizing, rooted in communities, aligns with the zeitgeist.