An Afternoon With #Occupy Chicago


I've been a part-time participant in #Occupy Chicago. We're not a large group. Yesterday afternoon when I was there, we peaked at around 150. There were more of us on Friday evening. We had an afternoon General Assembly in Grant Park with the organizers taking great pains so that all could be heard, even the shy and normally quiet. It was conducted with several Chicago police in full view. That was interesting.

We are normally on LaSalle Street in front of the Federal Reserve in the heart of the financial district. The Board of Trade towers over us with its Mordor-like architecture.  The Mayor's Office up the street has made it logistically hard, not letting people set up an encampment on the sidewalk, but #Occupy Chicago has learned to cope. Given the violent history of the Chicago police, the cops have been on their best behavior by comparison.

We're noisy but then the sounds within the city canyons are like that anyway. There is no peace to disturb. Every few hours, people march around the Chicago Loop with their signs and noisemakers.We get lots of friendly honks from cabbies, truck drivers and just ordinary people braving the city traffic. Tourists like to snap photos from above their open-air tour buses. Some pedestrians give us friendly smiles. Some stop to chat. Others try to pretend they don't see us. The one thing we don't get is a lot of open hostility.

Chicago is  a working class city and I think people are taking a wait and see attitude toward this movement. We did get an endorsement from the Chicago Federation of Labor and Jesse Jackson showed up yesterday, so the liberal establishment is taking note. That's nice, but we won't have a chance of winning until we convince the working class majority that we are in this for the duration.

Last winter working class people in Wisconsin occupied the Statehouse for 17 days. We lost the battle, but their struggle continues. I think the #Occupy movement is Wisconsin finally going national. Are we ready for a national non-violent revolution like the the one from the days of the civil rights movement?

I don't have an answer for that.

But like the civil rights movement, this movement is led by the young, many of them educated, but facing a grim future. They are also increasingly diverse and working hard to make this a multiracial movement, knowing that American racism has been the great stumbling block of social movements in the past.  They have more questions than answers and are always skeptical of the Official Story that they get from the government and the corporate owned media.

In this way they remind me of of the idealistic SNCC kids of the civil rights era who defied the liberal establishment of their day and did not take the cautious route. They confronted the evils of a terrorist ruling elite by putting their own bodies on the line. Some paid with their lives in horrific ways.

Come to think of it the young organizers of the women's liberation movement of the 1960's and the 1930's labor uprising were pretty much the same kind of people.

I guess in that way, the #Occupy movement is quaintly old fashioned and very American. We're  getting a lot negative attention from the wealthy and powerful now. They are now past the point of ignoring us. We're getting  official repression from petty annoying harassment to mass arrests and violent physical assaults. There are also insulting media attacks coming from well paid  pundits who ordinarily don't waste a thought on the fate of the working class.

Wall Street

These are all signs that we are doing something right. I believe this movement is a chance for the USA to redeem itself after decades of being ruled by extreme greed, violence and cruelty. Our Lords of Misrule have done more than wreck our economy and spread bloodshed and enviro-destruction across the planet. They have wounded the souls of the American people.

But wounds can be healed and I think that is where the #Occupied movement has its greatest potential. A decent and just society requires people who not only understand what decency and justice are, but believe that it can be achieved in a large complex technological society, not just in their own personal dealings with people around them.

The #Occupy movement is trying to do exactly that, enlarge our connectedness and compassion beyond our own personal comfort zone.

I doubt that anyone from the 1% will read this these words but if they do, know this. You have a choice. You can join us, find your own humanity and share your considerable resources to do some good in this world. You will be welcomed with some suspicion to be sure, but be patient, be humble, hold up a sign or do some cleanup detail and eventually you will be accepted and can share in what could be an American Renaissance.

As for anyone from the 99% who may read these words, a young US president named John Fitzgerald Kennedy once said," Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution revolution inevitable."

The African revolutionary Amilcar Cabral told his movement, "Tell no lies. Claim no easy victories."

We have difficult days ahead and our commitment to non-violence and truth will be sorely tested. There will be those among the 1% who will provoke us and try to divide us. They hope for a violent confrontation so they can destroy us before we reach maturity as a social movement. We need to do everything humanly possible to resist taking the path of violence and lies they wish us to take.

Keep on keepin' on.

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