“I mostly feel bad for my dogs. I can’t get home to let them out,” Officer Michaels said as the rest of the Chicago Police force prepared zip tie handcuffs, waiting to arrest 130 Occupy Chicago protestors. Hundreds of Chicagoans assembled for a sort solidarity rally with Occupy Wall Street, a movement fighting back against the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process.
Organizers of Occupy Chicago called on the Windy City to “take back the horse,” marching along Jackson Boulevard and Michigan Avenue, as police vehicles blocked off traffic, attempting to set up camp in Grant Park. The park closes at 11 p.m., but many protestors were determined to stay all night and risk arrest.
Michaels, and most of the other responding officers, normally worked days, but their shift start times were pushed back to 1 p.m. to prepare for the mass of arrests. As I stood with the rest of the reporters, spending our Saturday night huddled around a barricade with video cameras and photographers, Michaels chatted with us about her daughter the paramedic, who was currently on a 24-hour shift, and her son in the military. She wondered aloud if she could get her boyfriend to check on her dogs.
Working well into the morning, Michaels would still have to report for her shift the next day at 9 a.m. If an officer worked more than six hours over, it used to be considered a tour of duty by the union and the next shift was excused; that isn’t the case anymore.
The protestors split into two groups—people who were occupying Grant Park, and people who were supporting them from the sidewalk. The crowd roared on, chanting, “The whole world is watching,” and “You are the 99 percent,” to the officers.
Nurses set up a makeshift medic station, determined to stay the night and face arrest. Rainbow flags pierced the sky. A band played on well into the night. Bullhorns blared battle cries. Organizers distributed food and water. A legion of lawyers lied in wait to assist the arrested. People picked up discarded debris. It was the most civil of civil unrest.
One-by-one, the protesters smiled as officers snapped their photos, patted them down and escorted them into buses. “These are the happiest people I’ve ever seen get arrested,” a Cook County jailer laughed from behind me. It was 1 a.m., and the arrests were just beginning.
Among the protestors, many identity groups were represented, including a large bloc from the queer and LGBT community. These types of actions usually draw a specific crowd, but there were many different people enthusiastically participating in the march, speeches and organizing. And that’s not to mention the passersby who were absorbed by the crowd’s chorus.
But the rally was not perfect. There was no mention of accessibility on Occupy Chicago’s website, Facebook event or at the rally itself. Most organizing has been through the internet, a cheap and effective way to spread the word, but also a medium not everyone can access. There were no sign language interpreters. Only one speaker translated his speech to Spanish. Language like, “brothers and sisters,” while good-natured, alienated our transgender and gender-variant siblings. No one addressed our homeless compatriots who occupy public spaces every night because they have no where else to go. And, of course, the most startling oversight is no speaker mentioned that our economic and governing systems have always oppressed women and minorities—especially racial and ethnic minorities—and it wasn’t until this problem began also seriously effecting white people that the Occupy movement was born.
But that’s not to say the people don’t have something to be pissed off about— the American dream will remain a dream for many of us. The United States unemployment rate stands at 9.1 percent. We can’t just work hard until it all pays off if we can’t work.
The amount of Americans living in poverty—the poverty threshold defined as an income of $11,139 for one person and $22,314 for a family of four—jumped to 15.1 percent. Blacks experienced the highest poverty rate of 27 percent, with Hispanics close behind at 26 percent, Asians at 12.1 percent and whites at 9.9 percent. We can’t pull ourselves up by our bootstraps if we don’t have bootstraps.
Twenty-four percent of lesbian and bisexual women live in poverty, while 14 percent of gay men do. Transgender people experience double the unemployment rate of the general population and are nearly four times more likely to live in extreme poverty, with a household income of less than $10,000.
The Illinois unemployment rate is slightly higher than the national average at 10 percent, with 16.3 percent of the population living in poverty. Chicago’s unemployment rate climbs even higher to 11.7 percent, and it’s nearly double that in predominantly black neighborhoods.
And all of this as corporations report record profits, earning an average of 12 percent more than before the recession, because Americans who are actually working are doing so much more for so much less.
But these are still First World problems. Workers abroad toil in deplorable conditions for low pay and no benefits, while corporations defile their natural resources and their dignity to produce products for us. These workers, 70 percent of whom are women of color, are as an integral cog as we are in the international economic system of oppression Wall Street perpetuates.
We’re on the right track with this Occupy movement because we’re actually doing something instead of nothing, but as you occupy everywhere, look around and see who isn’t there. Maybe it’s the police officers whose union has been rendered powerless, but can still feed they’re family while working harder for less. Maybe it’s the single working mother who has nobody to watch her children. Maybe it’s the precariously housed queer youth who doesn’t have access to the internet, so they never heard about the rally. Ask yourself why they aren’t participating and what you can do change that. We have to do this with everybody or we can’t do it at all.
This video pretty much sums up everything else:
Check out more photos from Saturday’s Occupy Chicago protest on Stuff Queer People Need To Know’s Facebook fan page.