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Occupy Chicago joins with community groups to say: enough business as usual

On the surface, Chicago has gone through a number of changes in the past year — a new mayor, a renamed Sears Tower and a fresh coat of paint for the coming Bankers summit. But Occupy Chicago and its supporters say that under the cosmetics, it’s business as usual — and they’ve had enough.

The Second City is two weeks into its occupation of Wall Street, and on a warm Thursday afternoon about 200 people stood on the cross-streets between the Chicago Federal Reserve and the Chicago Trading Floor. Protesters held signs calling for passing drivers to “honk to prosecute banksters,” and a woman sitting on the curb held a sign saying “Keep your coins. I want change.”

“The more oppression you have the more people will fight,” said Kyle, 26, a freelance computer repairman and photographer who has gone to Occupy Chicago daily since it began.

Kyle, who asked that his last name not be used for fear of prosecution, said that what is particularly interesting about the occupation movement to him is the applicability of the fight against corporatism to many other movements.

“More so than anything else, I’m an environmentalist,” said Kyle, “and coal power, industrial agriculture, oil drilling are all part of the fact that our part of society, the 99%, is underrepresented.”

Community groups and unions in Chicago are also working to underline the similarities between Occupy Wall Street’s anger at the financial system and the local struggles they are fighting, many over resources in a city where political figures have used a $653.7 budget deficit to cut from the bottom, canceling a planned raise for teachers, cutting public workers salaries and closing mental health centers.

“We are interested in making sure that this isn’t a few teeny groups agendas but a public and democratic uprising,” said Adam Kader, Worker Center Director at Chicago’s ARISE Workers Center. “What is clear is that our communities are hurting and it’s because public funds have been taken away from people,” and this is the basis on which the movements will come together.

As the American Independent reported earlier Thursday many regional Occupy movements have marchhed on their regional federal reserve banks. Stephen Eisenman, a professor of Art History at Northwestern University who was down at the occupation for his first time, said he thinks the target is a good one.

“The Federal Reserve has been handing out cash in huge truckloads… at 1 percent interest,” said Eisenman, whose credit card company charges him up to 17 percent for a late payment. “I support any movement that seeks to put controls on rampant capitalism and the right to demand that we reprioritize our goals.”

Along with being the headquarters of a number of major banks, including Harris Bank, Chicago has another financial quirk that moves money upwards — Tax Increment Financing.

Under Chicago’s Mayor Daley, TIF’s took tax money from one designated area and redirected it into another — in reality, this has meant taking about $500 million in tax dollars in the last four years that would have gone to schools or struggling communities, and instead spending it on projects like the remodeling the former Sears Tower.

This coming week, Chicago will also be hosting the Futures Industry Association and Mortgage Bankers Association expos. A coalition of community groups including the Chicago Teachers Union, ARISE Chicago and SEIU have organized Take Back Chicago, a week of action to protests “to begin taking back the jobs, homes, and schools we have lost to their greed.”

Occupy Chicago voted to take part in this week of action, and Catherine Murrell, communications coordinator for Stand Up! Chicago, a coalition of progressive community groups, says that the week of action is “a perfect fit with what Occupy Chicago is talking about.”

“Why are our communities being allowed to deteriorate,” asked Murrell, “while those who caused the recession are still seeing an upward flow of wealth?”

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