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"We Belong Here" - A Day With Occupy Chicago

By aaroncynic in News on Sep 27, 2011 7:00PM

Image Credit: misterbuckwheattree
They may be leaderless, but the lack of a central authority figure does not make those participating in Occupy Chicago goalless. On Friday, a small group of spirited individuals took to the streets to demonstrate, educate and occupy the space in front of the federal reserve, in solidarity with similar actions happening on Wall Street in New York City.

Since Sept. 17, activists have occupied the street, demanding some pretty big changes. As of today, occupy movements have sprung up in dozens of cities throughout the country, and though they face the rolling eyes of a public that's seen many a
movement spark and burn out, they're not so easily dissuaded.

"I want my vote to count more than the amount of money I spend. For my fellow citizens and I, I want our opinions to matter more than a giant conglomerate." They may seem lofty and idealistic, but the words from South Side resident Justin reflect a growing sentiment across America that the democratic process has become so entangled with big
business, the needs of the average American have fallen well past the wayside.

Walking with about a dozen demonstrators through the Loop Saturday, we passed plenty of curious onlookers. While the majority of passersby may have only given a fleeting thought to the signs and shouts of Occupy Chicago, more than a few onlookers waved and smiled in support. I saw more than sympathy in the eyes of those that stopped to talk with those camped in front of the Federal Reserve. I saw empathy.
I saw the same frustration building behind the eyes of people who also didn't have an exact outlet for their frustration. Charlie, from Chicago's western suburbs found that in front of the Federal Reserve.

"I saw a lot of people who were interested in having a gathering in Chicago but everyone felt kind of...there's a fear to take that first step, you're scared you're going to be alone, you're scared that people are going to mock you or you're scared that it won't take off
or that you'll get in trouble," she told me. She had been camped in front of the building since 9 a.m. Friday morning and planned to stay indefinitely. "When I was lying down last night, wrapped in my 500 layers with a garbage bag over me to keep off the rain and an umbrella over my head, I felt the rain coming down and looked at the bank across the street and all the soft lights and I was just thinking 'we belong here.'"

Criticism of the Occupy movement has centered around the lack of a unified message from demonstrators, their use of corporate technology, and their youth. The New York Times attempted to paint occupiers and attendees as a shiftless motley crew, whose problems with the system will simply dissipate with time or maturity. Similar criticisms were
leveled at protesters during demonstrations against corporate globalization in the 90's, and there are even certain threads this very loose coalition of the 99 percent of Americans without incredible wealth have in common with some Tea Party activists.

While socially and politically, most of their views are miles apart, both groups, like so many other Americans, are looking for an outlet to express their discontent with systems of government and economics that are clearly failing. Divisiveness in American political philosophy and opinions even between our own friends and family have created a
serious lack of community, for every citizen - no matter their race, religion, politics, gender.

In sitting with the folks occupying the space on the corner of Lasalle and Jackson, I felt the desire to and watched the creation of communal bonds between strangers, casual
acquaintances and old friends.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should remind readers I've written several posts in support of the Occupy movement. I marched in the streets more than a decade ago in support of similar issues and ideas, and I've seen political movements rise and disappear into history's dustbin in a heartbeat.

What's always stuck with me participating and covering movements like Occupy Chicago is that once the surface is scratched, one finds the overwhelming desire of demonstrators to be inclusive, to make change not through standoffs with police or politicians, but to change the world through community building, one conversation at a time.