Saturday, October 22, 2011

Occupy Chicago

Today we went to Occupy Chicago
It was a beautiful late fall afternoon. Occupiers rounded the northeast corner of Jackson and LaSalle Streets. Next to the building, there was a cadre of people in twos and threes . On the street side of the sidewalk was a small clean stand of plastic containers filled with fresh fruit, water and other food. Next to them were boxes filled with handwritten signs on a cardboard and poster board, a few had sticks to hold the signs up. The middle of the sidewalk was left open so people could walk through.

We picked our signs from the box and took our places on the light
metal barricade along the building side. At the corner there was an informal spin area where people with fairly large video cameras interviewed occupiers. People drummed on buckets around the corner from where we were. Often you would hear cars honk, hopefully in support of what we were doing.

The first thing that struck me was that this is a new concept in protest. Occupy is just that. Instead of speakers and chants, songs and bongo drums, like we had in the sixties, there was a wide variety of people holding signs, occupying either side of the sidewalk and talking quietly among themselves or to people who came up and asked questions.

The second thing thing that struck me was that there was one police car parked across the street and a little down the block from where we were. There were no police in uniform visible on the street. This was in stark contrast to the last demonstration I'd been to, which was against the war in Iraq, where speakers spoke through bullhorns to enough people to fill Federal Plaza and chanting broke out intermittently. Police appeared at that demonstration in full riot gear, surrounded the demonstrators and could be seen lining the surrounding blocks.

My question about the Occupy movement has always been, what are we doing? What is the overall goal? Clearly important issues are represented--from taxing the rich, to ending the wars, to fair wages and jobs for the middle class, to getting wall street out of politics, and more. All valid issues.

My main issue for the Occupy movement that we need to reform Wall Street so that they can never again bring the world to its knees by selling fraudulent products and ponzi schemes to an unknowing public. I'm for regulating the financial system, but I'm also for getting the big corporate money out of politics. I'm old enough and cynical enough to know that these things may not happen in my lifetime, but I do believe we must keep trying make them happen.

And I'm also very concerned that a jobs program has been blocked by the Republicans for political reasons while millions of people lose their jobs and homes--and so businesses lose their customers. Something has to break the spiral. People working and spending money will generate consumption so businesses will not be afraid to produce more goods and banks will not be afraid to lend money to businesses. First you need a market--consumers. That's where it starts.

However unfocused the movement my seem, the underlying theme seems to be that it is time to get the middle and lower "classes" on a more fair playing field with the rich. And the feeling harnessed in the Occupy movement has resonated all over the country and the world so it should not be dismissed.

Perhaps it resonates because it doesn't try to focus on a single issue, because it is simply people exercising their right to be dissatisfied and let the world know it. Maybe it isn't the job of the occupiers to have specific solution to all problems, but to let lawmakers--our representatives--know that we see there are problems and we elected them to fix them. And while they are at it, they are not to take advantage of those who aren't rich to do things that only benefit the rich.

We spent some time talking to a young man who was there with a busload of students from his college. The first thing he asked me was, what's a SuperPAC? I'm glad to report that because I'd watched Stephen Colbert give a very good description last week, I was able to talk somewhat intelligently about how they are a way of laundering money before it goes into PACs. PACs are required to disclose their sources of money. SuperPacs are not. So if you give your money to a SuperPac, the SuperPac can give money to a Pac, without disclosing the sources. So it's about transparency, the student responded. Transparency is the issue with the SuperPACs..

Then he asked me what a PAC was. I was a little fuzzier, I'm sorry to say. A political action committee, I could say with some certainty. And I said that PACs were able to sponsor ads with stands on issues. I forgot to mention that PACs lobby Congress furiously and with lots of SuperPAC money backing them up. We didn't get into the recent Supreme Court ruling that corporations can contribute just like people, which seems to admit that corporations vote in our elections--and have power in government. As much as money can buy.

We didn't stay very long. I didn't realize there was a marched planned for 7:00pm, but we probably wouldn't have stayed. We'll be back, I'm sure. I do miss speeches, guitars, bongo drums, singers and chanters. But this is a different movement and it's finding its own way--very successfully--to be heard.Occupy Chicago   Photos are from the Occupy Chicago website.

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