Demonstrators from Occupy Chicago and other organizations blocked the LaSalle Street bridge over the Chicago River downtown for less than half an hour Thursday evening before marching through the Loop, clogging traffic while trying to show that the movement is here to stay.
Protesters blocked traffic on the bridge at the height of the evening rush hour by sitting down across the road. Police eventually cleared the bridge and issued tickets to 46 people. The bridge was reopened to traffic by 4:45 p.m.
Lucinda Scharbach, one of those ticketed for blocking the bridge, said she participated “so that other people in Chicago see that we’re not afraid to stand up for ourselves and our rights, and they can also do the same.”
“We hope it inspires other people to stand up for themselves,” said Scharbach, 31, a member of Stand Up Chicago, a coalition of people from labor unions and community groups. She and most of the other people who were cited wore bright blue jackets with the words “JOBS NOT CUTS” printed in white on the back.
Many of the people who were cited were taken onto a school bus parked on Wacker Drive, where police ticketed them for being pedestrians failing to exercise due care before releasing them.
The march to the bridge began as a rally at the Thompson Center organized by Occupy Chicago and Stand Up Chicago. The march was part of a “National Day of Action” coordinated with Occupy Wall Street and other offshoots of the Occupy movement throughout the country.
About an hour after the bridge reopened, thousands of people taking up the entire width of LaSalle Street began marching north from Jackson Boulevard, the intersection in front of the Chicago Board of Trade that Occupy Chicago is using as its headquarters. Police on bicycles and on foot escorted the march and directed traffic as the protesters weaved through the Loop toward Michigan Avenue.
The protesters chanted “We are the 99 percent” and “Whose streets? Our streets,” their words echoing off skyscrapers as pedestrians stopped to shoot photos and video of the demonstration. Some people waved to the protesters from windows high above the streets.
Although some motorists honked their horns in support, others were clearly frustrated. One cab driver stood outside his open door as protesters and police blocked traffic, shaking his head in anger.
After following Jackson Boulevard to Michigan Avenue, the protesters walked south to the Congress Plaza Hotel before turning north and walking past Congress Plaza, where they usually hold their nightly General Assembly meetings. Instead of stopping there, the protesters continued north and marched to the Thompson Center. Some police officers used their bicycles as barricades to prevent the protesters from crossing into the southbound lanes of Michigan Avenue near the Art Institute.
Once the group gathered outside the Thompson Center, various people took turns addressing the crowd. The speakers paused after every few words to let the crowd repeat their statements.
“Working people, we are here to stay,” said a man who identified himself to the crowd as a CTA bus driver.
Philip DeVon, a research manager at a trade publication, said he joined the march to show his support for the nationwide movement.
“It’s a no-brainer today for me to be out here,” DeVon said as groups of people began to break away from the crowd at the Thompson Center, finally giving in to the night’s frigid temperatures. “If everyone steps up and joins in, then the middle class and the 99 percent can be heard. Then, we’re a force to be reckoned with.”
Tribune reporter Liam Ford contributed.