by Mark Bergen
In lower Manhattan the Occupy Wall Street protests have been growing with tremendous speed, adding leftist luminaries, elected officials, and hundreds of others to its ranks.
Here, the Occupy Chicago protests have persevered with the same message and energy—but not the same numbers. On Wednesday seven protesters braved the rain for morning rally. Around 25 arrived today at noon, holding flags and signs, passing out flyers, and banging drums.
On Tuesday the Federal Reserve police set up barricades along Jackson Boulevard, a move that upset but did not deter the protesters. According to Micah, one of three press liaisons appointed by the decentralized group, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago is an institute inbred with corporate malfeasance, and protests across the country were targeting other central bank branches. "They're feeding corporate abuse," he said on Wednesday. (He refused to give his last name.)
Since the recession, the Fed has been attacked from the right for its assertiveness and from the left for its timidity—though by some accounts, the president of the Chicago Fed has actually been the most progressive of his cohorts.
Later tonight, at 7 PM, the group will assemble at LaSalle and Jackson to set their list of demands. No one was precisely clear on its details. James Cox, 25, female, said they would focus on "things that will benefit the 99 percent as opposed to the 1 percent."
Mark Banks, 30, another nominated press officer, has been there for the past seven days, leaving only a couple times when he "absolutely needed to sleep." While I spoke with him, another protester, a deputy of sorts, ran up with a list of local unions. In New York the Transit Workers Union voted to join the protests, a significant sign of legitimacy. Banks was eager to solicit labor support but stressed that the loose movement still held the reins. "We have our own agenda," he said, adding, "we do not necessarily want to be subsumed."
Yesterday the police unveiled a rule demanding protesters remove their belongings from the street. So the occupiers simply tossed their stuff into cars. "It's been an ongoing chess match of ordinances," Banks said. There were no police around today, but on Wednesday two officers standing by noted that the protesters were consistently compliant. "They are very easy to manage," one said.
While reports emerged from New York of blatant police abuse, the relationship between cops and occupiers here appears far more cordial. Multiple protesters told me that police had shared doughnuts and coffee overnight. Dorothy Conway, a 50-year-old who runs her own small business, has been out protesting since last Friday. "The Chicago Police Department has been pretty freakin' awesome," she said.
Sympathy from fellow Chicagoans may be more difficult to achieve. One man walking through the gaggle offered his curt assessment of the protesters: "Motherfuckers get a job, they'll be all right."