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Taking Over the Streets

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“The combined worth of the 400 wealthiest Americans is greater than the combined worth of 150 million Americans,” said sculpture professor Laurie Palmer, when F Newsmagazine asked her why she thought the movement was springing up now. Two SAIC students, who prefer to remain anonymous, explained to F that they are involved in the Occupation because of their growing frustration with the system in which they live. “There has never been such a large gap between the rich and the middle class as there is right now,” they said. “One percent of the population controls over a third of the nation’s wealth, and most of that one percent isn’t paying taxes on that money because of antiquated loopholes leftover from previous administrations.”

The 99% that they are supporting is “taxi drivers, teachers, firefighters, 7-Eleven employees, security guards, waitresses and airline attendants – the people that keep America running. It’s students like us, struggling to stay in school while faced with the constant inflation of private student loans,” as explained in a manifesto from SAIC students involved in Occupy Chicago, which is available for viewing on the F Newsmagazine website.

 

“When I got involved with Occupy Chicago, I wanted to be able to help with documentation and our status on the Internet. Andrew, my roommate, hooked me up with the tech committee,” said Alex Halbert, third-year FVNM student. Halbert is also a member of the tech committee for the Occupy Chicago group and the administrator of their YouTube page. “We had decided that it was best to try and cover as much ground on the web as we could, so I made an additional YouTube page. We now have over three members actively uploading content to this page, and we will only get stronger.

The New York Police Department has been heavily criticized for their use of force against the NYC movement in the early days of Occupy Wall Street. YouTube videos of indiscriminate pepper spraying and forceful arrests of peaceful protesters have been widely viewed. Over 700 activists in New York were arrested on October 1 after marching onto the Brooklyn Bridge. In Chicago, on the other hand, protesters have maintained a more peaceful, although sometimes tense, relationship with the police department. “They haven’t given us too much trouble. Every once in a while the security guards will give us some static, but they’re basically down with our struggle, because they’re working class people too,” described 58-year-old protester Neal Rysdahl.

On Monday, October 10, at around 5 p.m., Occupy Chicago joined five feeder marches organized by Take Back Chicago! A large rally gathered outside of the Modern Wing of the Art Institute. Drawing a crowd estimated to be seven thousand people by organizers and three thousand by police, the rally convened on Monroe Street between Michigan and Columbus, to coincide with a reception of the Futures Industry Association inside the Modern Wing. Made up of mostly labor and community organizers, the crowd stopped traffic for over an hour with energetic street theater, drum circles and chanting. Protesters pointed and chanted the word “Shame!” at slick businessmen and women delicately holding their cocktails behind the glass walls of the Modern Wing. Several men and women, including SAIC photography faculty Claire Pentecost, blocked the door to AIC in an act of civil disobedience, wearing shirts that said, “Fighting for a better future,” and chanting against the economic inequality in the city.

When asked why she chose to partake in an action that would surely lead to arrest, Pentecost explained, “Civil disobedience has a long and honorable record as a form for expressing dissent. I am very fortunate to be one of the least precarious people in our ruthless society … my security gives me the choice, and ultimately, the responsibility to express things that many people are too vulnerable to express.”

Around 6:30 p.m. that evening, the police started clearing the streets of protesters who kept chanting, “You are the 99%!” as they were shuffled off the street.

A few weeks later, on Saturday October 16, Occupy Chicago attempted to relocate to Grant Park for a more permanent residence using tents for shelter. At around 11 p.m., the police informed the group that they were violating a curfew. In response the protesters locked arms to form a human chain around the campsite. At 1 a.m., police began to round up the activists and proceeded to arrest 175 members of the Occupation, including several students from SAIC. After being arrested for refusing to leave Grant Park, SAIC student Abbie Wilson said to F Newsmagazine, “We were violating a city ordinance; however, I was under the impression my constitutional rights supercede city ordinances.” Joe Carpenter, another SAIC student, was also arrested. When asked about the experience, he recalled being treated respectfully by the police, but he said, “I think it is not fair at all. For the Bank of America Marathon it is OK to paralyze the entire city, but when it’s about people speaking up for their rights, then it is not OK.”

Since then, the group has retreated back to their initial location at the Federal Reserve Bank at LaSalle and Jackson. 400 people attended the next day’s general assembly, where protesters can be found 24/7.

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