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As protesters gathered at the Daley Plaza this afternoon, someone with a megaphone began the familiar call-and-response: "What do we want?"
"What do we want today?" a young organizer near the front replied quietly.
For weeks now, downtown has been awash with protests about one thing or another. The march this afternoon was part of a series of demonstrations organized by Take Back Chicago, a coalition of community and labor groups. Yesterday the protests centered around housing—21 participants, including five women over 55, were arrested for trespassing. Today they were about schools.
The week of protests was planned months in advance, timed to coincide with conferences of mortgage bankers and commodity traders in the city. But the events were propelled by two unexpected events: the growing size of the Occupy Chicago protests, and the inaugural budget address of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
About 100 protesters, largely African-Americans and Latinos with SEIU Healthcare and the Chicago Teachers Union, marched to the Bank of America at 135 S. LaSalle, blocks away from where the 99 percenters have been camping out for weeks. The two groups aren't formally tied together, but the LaSalle Street protesters voted to support the Take Back crew, and the march today was sprinkled with younger, tattooed bodies.
The marchers entered the bank stealthily, then ran through quickly and noisily, emerging at the other end for a staged press conference. The focus of the protest was on financial deals Bank of America, and other lenders, cut with the Chicago Public Schools years ago. Since the economy tanked, the swap deals have hit CPS particularly hard. Bank of America owes the school system $20 million, Jackson Potter, a staff coordinate for CTU, told the crowd. (Mike Elk has a good explainer on these financial transactions, known as "interest rate swaps," and why the teachers union despises them.)
But the protest felt bigger than a union spat. It was clearly energized by the renewed focus on the financial system, both nationally and in the city. Earlier this morning, as Emanuel gave his budget speech, protesters embarked from City Hall on a "corporate welfare tour," visiting some of the downtown recipients of TIF funds. A few protesters outside Bank of America held signs with a message intended for the mayor: "Silly Rahm, TIFs R4 Kids."
Adam Kader, a program director with Arise Chicago, one of the participating groups, explained his deep skepticism of the mayor's pledge to bring accountability to city finances. "Obviously," he said, "we're still waiting to see what he means about TIF reform." As are we.