*Note: Names have been omitted other than the publicly announced. If you come across this, realize you are one of the subjects, and wish for your true name to be used, feel free to contact me.
I arrived in Chicago at about 3PM on Monday at a house that I had been put in contact with via the Occupychi.org site. When I got there, I met the man of the house & he gave a brief introduction of himself and his partner. I was shown to my room, I set my clothes out, and went on to venture out to the city.
I ended up walking about thirty blocks(mainly because I didn’t want to wait for the transit that I kept missing as I walked by the bus stops, which would have taken considerably less time in retrospect) through parks, under trees with Green Parrot nests in them, & wonderful architecture before I came upon a lone trumpeter, signaling that I had arrived at Dyett High School where the Occupy movement’s “Money for Education not War” was taking place.
People were running around, throwing bags of colored powder on each other. There were others with water cannons spraying others. I was drawn to a drum circle consisting of about seven protesters. I watched for a bit before the circle broke off into the rest of the area. A man came up to me & gave me a red felt square to pin to me signifying solidarity with the protest. I pinned it to my backpack & moved on to the rest of the areas to be discovered.
I saw a few workshops, at one, a couple kids, a few adults, & a couple elderly were making their own drums out of four boards & packing tape. The boards were sometimes decorated with sidewalk chalk before being wrapped with the tape. A few feet off to the side of that was the Occupy Chicago (Mobile) Library, a small wagon that carried a bunch of books & was covered with pins that said “99%” and various other sayings promoting our group. A red headed individual gave me a copy of “Worker’s World”, a publication focusing on laborers & oppressed people’s rights.
There was a man dressed in a graduation gown & cap that had a chain that connected to a makeshift boulder/ball that had the number $2 Trillion written across it, a figure detailing student debt(U.S. alone: $1T), that a group then started lifting into the air for pictures. Across the walkway from this was a shirt-making workshop where many of the students of the high school were making shirts with paints & then hanging them up to dry. A banner was spread between two trees, reading “Save our Schools, Defend our Teachers”. There were many news vans, reporters, and even some student reporters from Columbia University interviewing several protesters.
The general feel of the crowd was beautiful, people dancing & eventually contorting their bodies to spell out “Occupy” before huddling in a group to take pictures(they were many of the ones covered in the colored powder).
The reason for this Occupation is because Dyett has been deprived of an arts program for more than a year. Personally, I couldn’t imagine a school without an arts department. Chicago Public School system is now calling for the school to be closed. The COO Tim Cawley has been quoted as saying, “If we think there’s a chance that a building is going to be a school, we’re not going to invest in that building.”
I began walking away, astounded at the lack of police presence(there were cop cars that passed, but nothing noteworthy) right before I looked at the wrong unmarked SUV & met eyes with a cop that stared back with a menacing look that demanded my head to be stomped into the ground. So much for that euphoric mood I was in from the protest.
I continued walking a couple blocks to a bus stop & rode the 192 to Union Station. It wasn’t overly crowded with people getting out of work, but the train lines were pretty long. I put ten dollars on a Chicago Transit Authority card & grabbed a quick beer at the Cafe in the station. I ended up having to go to the Amtrak help desk to get a CTA map that would guide me through town pretty easily.
I ate at a place called Baba’s Village, an Indian & Pakistani diner with vegan options noted on the menu. I highly suggest Baba’s Special, a dish with vegan beef & chicken, veggies with kind of a ginger/curry/garlic feel to it, and don’t skimp on the hot sauce.
After that meal, I walked to Lasalle & Jackson past a few guards & then up State street to go back to the house to get some rest. Made it to the Red Line subway where a couple kids were making out & I’m almost positive they thought I was following them because we all got off at 69th. As I passed another couple, I put my hand up to warn the girl I was passing, but the boy said something to her first & she stepped off to the side. After I passed, she started yelling “Did you just touch me??!!” repeatedly. The sun was setting, I was in a rough looking neighborhood, and had no want to be held up there any more than I had to be, so I just continued walking to the 71 bus that would take me back to the house.
Once I got back to the house, I called my wife(had to plug in the phone, the battery dies so quick in these things anymore) & set up my plan for Tuesday. The guy of the house was at a Sox game, and the lady of the house ended up getting back from work before he did. We introduced ourselves, and she told me all about how they help the homeless, the exchange students they house, her history in Ohio, certain parts of town that I should avoid unless I have a death wish, and all other subjects. I ended up going to sleep early, had to be ready for the next day.
I woke up at 7AM, and considering the time difference, this didn’t surprise me. I took a look at my maps, the events of the day, and double-checked my supplies. Before I left the house, the lady of asked if I needed to use the bathroom & I declined as I hurried off to the number 6 bus stop as if I was going to miss it again. I picked up a copy of the Redeye, a small newspaper informing on current events. The crossword came in handy for the hour long bus ride.
Once I got downtown, I found the Immigration & Customs Enforcement(I.C.E.) building pretty easily, considering there were four police SUV’s & one cruiser already there waiting for me. This was the site where Occupy’s Vigil for Immigrant Rights & Family Unity was going to happen. The main statement we were trying to convey was that no human is illegal. I.C.E. is a privatized prison essentially, and several banking industries make money off of their investments in these entities every day people are detained.
There was a march that went from 26th to downtown that started at 10AM, but I decided it would take a long time to get there & the march would probably have already started, leaving me behind.
I ended up just sticking around I.C.E., where there were a few people that looked as though they were there for the Vigil. We all started talking with each other. There was a streamer, a guy from Pittsburgh, that had just gotten into Chicago at 11PM the night before. He got about five hours of sleep at this building, and he wasn’t bothered he said. There was a German guy from south of Berlin who had a large camera that I engaged in conversation with, telling him that my Mother was originally from Frankfurt am Mein. There was a girl that had short cropped hair & dressed sort of punkish that just kind of had small talk about the upcoming events of the weekend.
The crowd started coming in with a vocal long-haired streamer, a guitar player, and a black bloc, among others, slowly sitting down on the steps. The streamer from Pittsburgh & I tried to charge our phones on an outlet in one of the raised gardens on the block, initially successful, but the power got cut to that as soon as they realized what we were doing.
An angry, loud, redundant fat man was arguing with the long-haired streamer, unable to grasp the concept that we were conveying, consistently backtracking, and then just arguing some more. We had a good laugh at his expense-the guy did truly epitomize the personification of the rabble-rouser(plus, it helps that we just kept mocking him by “rabbling”). There were several people handing out literature on human rights, several petitions being handed out, and signs everywhere calling for change.
There was a group of police on bicycles that rode in, followed immediately by one of our lawyers, a tall, lanky man that had a lime green hat & seemed like an all-around nice guy. Street medics made their presence silently known with red masking tape forming crosses on their person & armed with bottles of antidotes/relievers for most of what the CPD could throw at us. Some of the bike cops made their way to the entrance of the building to set their bikes up like flimsy barricades. The other bike cops simply stayed put in front of us on the street, not doing much more than holding their bikes up & posing like they were pretending to be stocky Captain Americas.
A CPD horse trailer passed us by & even more cops arrived. One person called out that the march was behind schedule & would be arriving quite soon. A speaker stood above the raised flowerbeds in front of the building, announced himself, and started his speech. He introduced a couple of other speakers, let them speak for a moment, and then continued his. He was a bit into it when that angry, loud, redundant fat man started yelling “Mexico should become a state! Mexico should become a state!!” and did this until the speaker was handed a megaphone.
Just a few moments later, you could hear the chanting people come out from nowhere as the march was upon us and surrounding the building on the north side. Most of the police had a calm yet startled look on their faces, as if to say they knew what they were going to do when the majority were just dumbfounded. The crowd erupted in a giant, uncoordinated welcome party as the march took the “stage” & a new speaker emerged that denounced I.C.E., led a few chants before handing the megaphone to another couple of speakers & then finishing with a call to “shut it down.” He and a few others took a seat directly in front of the bikes in front of the building & we engaged in some more chants.
A little bit later, we took to the other side of the building & held hands in a human chain against a fence of police using the same tactics with their bikes in order to make way for employees getting off of their lunch breaks. We soon linked elbows & began chanting at the cops & the nervous security inside. The streamer from Pittsburgh started flirting with one of the female cops, making her put on a jacket(because cop uniforms are quite flattering), and smirked at him a few times as well. The long-haired streamer was talking to the cops & basically stating his case to each and every one of them in an in-your-face way that, taken by the wrong cop, might have ended up badly. After a bit of this, the majority joined the rest of the crowd back on the north side of the building for a bit. I joined a couple of people on the side of the building just as one of the white-shirted cops started kicking us off of the steps “at the building manager’s request”.
A couple minutes passed, and we saw a scuffle start where the organizer of the vigil was sitting. He was getting arrested, and so was another lady. We all cried “Shame, shame,” but they were taken to the paddy wagon anyway.
The police that were against the building were getting closer to us, almost caging us in as they moved their bikes closer on both sides. We asked if we were being arrested, no direct answer. So we all did what any logical protest group would do. We marched. On the streets.
Bike cops rode around us, yelling for us to get onto the sidewalk or risk arrest. Some did, most didn’t. The cops used their bikes to block the roads, but not the sidewalks, so we ran past them. This happened about three times and across a bridge before one cop grabbed a protester & shoved him against a Walgreens. The troop of bike cops surrounded him and his catch in defense. I was on the other side of the street where another protester was about to get arrested. I snapped a few pictures before an angry large female cop pulled her expandable baton out & glared at me from about five feet away.
The call was given to run back across the bridge, and we did so with minimal cop pests following. We regrouped on one side of the street, discussed shutting it down, and then decided the best plan of action was to march back to Jackson & LaSalle, chanting various fun chants along the way. There, of course, had to be that one asshole who yelled at us, but in contrast, I observed quite a few more that were supportive as they saw us merrily cheering through the streets.
Once we got to our destination, a large group of bike cops blocked us in on the corner. There were quite a few faces unaccounted for, leading me to think that they had been arrested back at the bridge. Eventually, the cops got bored & left a scant five of their misfit bunch behind to watch us. My phone battery was dying because of all of the pictures I was taking, and so was the streamer from Pittsburgh, so we walked to Subway to buy a soda so we could steal their precious electrical outlet.
We planned on going to the Nakba Day informational meeting, but we walked there about an hour too early because I was running out of steam & needed to move or sleep. We sat across the street from the center this was going on at with some of the street medics as they were preparing for a FTP(Fuck the Police)/Anti-Capitalist Militant March that wasn’t necessarily affiliated with the Occupy movement, but stood in solidarity with the cause. He ended up going with a group of the medics, and I stayed behind to cover the meeting.
After a while, I got a bit stir-crazy, and decided I wanted to get to the march. I tried to contact the streamer, but after no reply for some time, I decided to grab some vegan food from the Native Foods Cafe downtown. The Greek Gyro Earth Bowl & Boogie Bar(a banana nut bread with chocolate chips) hit the spot paired with a Bell’s Two Hearted Ale. After that, I headed back to the house on the 6 bus.
The guy of the house was there, so we had a good conversation on the day’s events & some of his activism. He told me of him getting arrested back in 2003 while protesting the invasion of Iraq with 15,000 people on Lake Shore Drive, shutting the street down for several hours & over 800 protesters being arrested. He told me of his participation in a march to bring a trauma center to the south side of the city(because there isn’t one there & people usually pass away from injuries before making it to another part of town). All I could think was how awesome these people I was staying with were. They were just good people altogether.
The next day, I woke up early & said my goodbyes before I drove through Chicago on Lake Shore Drive, the story of an enormous protest years ago still resonating in my mind. I got to the park & ride at Howard Street and caught the purple line downtown.
I made my way to Jackson & LaSalle for a rally calling for a one year moratorium on foreclosures & evictions. As I approached the corner, I observed eight cops already planted on two of the corners of the intersection versus the five of us talking. The lawyer rode his bike by & said he’d be right back after saying hi to his people. I ended up helping hand out signs & was interviewed by a Columbia College journalism student as the crowd swelled. The angry, loud, redundant fat man was sitting across the street trying to yell at us again, not getting much attention anymore.
A man on a megaphone announced the beginning of the march & the destination being the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development. We started the march with the expected bike police escort & a helicopter following us on our route. One can only wonder how much that kind of escort costs the city for an informational peaceful protest. We made it to the H.U.D. & a mic check was called to tell of the evils of the department itself & it’s rampant want for homelessness & foreclosure in order to constantly build.
We continued on to Citi Bank, where furniture was placed at the corner & sat in like a mobile living room. We heard speakers denouncing Citi Bank because of the unethical behavior & lack of help they offered those who were tangled in the web of paperwork they used to foreclose on houses.
After that, the furniture was picked up & we relocated to Daley Plaza, where the Cook County Courthouse is located. The furniture was placed on a stage in front of some rows of folding chairs. A performance detailing what can happen when a sheriff tries to kick you out of your house was shown, people were called to come up to the stage, where they kicked the “sheriff” out.
The speakers afterward called upon representatives of the Sheriff’s Department to accept the petition calling for the moratorium with thousands of signatures. The speakers asked the representatives if they would be able to set up a public meeting with the department, but that was denied. They went on to speak about how broken windows signify a form of violence, a war that many of the banks wage on the public. They called for everyone to take back the unoccupied homes. They closed the show with a rendition of “This Land is Our Land.”
After that, I decided to take the red line north to Belmont Avenue, where there was a cool neighborhood to explore. I grabbed a bite to eat at the Native Foods Cafe(I love that place), and then walked around shops. At one of them, I found an Occupy shirt that I liked, but the want for it passed after contemplating the fact that the shirt gave no proceeds to the movement itself, just the shop trying to shamelessly make money off of something like this. Plus I didn’t care for the fact that the entire store smelled like leather.
I went back to the red line & took that back to my car so I could park it by the Mayne Stage Theater, where I was going to see Jamie Kilstein perform. It was just after 5, so people were getting home from work and parking in front of their houses. The nerve. It took me nearly an hour to find a walkable parking space on a side street. I needed the walkable area because I was sleeping in my car that night.
I walked over to the Mayne Stage Theater, grabbed a Three Floyds, and needed some dinner. The only vegan food I saw was the french fries, so I ordered them & asked the bartender if I could have malt vinegar with them. She had the kitchen toss the fries in salt & vinegar, which were phenomenal. After that, doors had opened for the show, so I cashed out at the bar & went inside. There was a good crowd there with nearly no seats left in the house. I saw Allison Kilkenny, Jamie’s wife, in the very back booth. Jamie was around too, running around getting ready for the show.
Mike Lebovitz opened the show telling a few jokes and introducing James Fritz, a great comic himself. The waitress was by a couple of times to get me beers, nothing too crazy. The show seemed only to go for about a half an hour before Jamie was introduced by Mike.
Jamie hustled out to the stage and started his act introducing the two guys that made out at a Rick Santorum rally(Santorum is a known homophobe) that were in attendance, and then jumped right into his bits.
At one point, he went into a story of a kid walking to Occupy Wall Street, and feeling at home. When the kid left Occupy, the world turned dark and not comfortable at all. You are part of something beautiful when you are within it, but once you leave, you are immediately told what to do, how to act, to live. It was a very accurate account looking back at the previous couple of days in my experiences.
After the show, I got in line to meet Jamie & Allison. It was Jamie’s birthday the next day, so some of his awesome fans got him a huge cake with some Avengers-themed plates that he shared with the entire club. Once I got to the table, I was simply awestruck. Listening to their podcast(Citizen Radio) had entertained me for some time and made me laugh with every episode. It was awesome to meet them, and they gave me high fives on the fact that it had been four and a half months without a cigarette for me(Jamie even signed the CD I got from him with “Congrats on not getting cancer!!”). After that, I went into the bar area and immediately saw Tim McIlrath of Rise Against sitting there, drinking a root beer. Two of my idols in one place! I had forgotten that Tim & Jamie were friends & didn’t put it together that Tim lives in Chicago, so he might make the show.
I couldn’t muster up the courage to talk to Tim, I first was scared, then I thought about the fact that he might not want to be bothered by a stuttering fan, so I sat at the bar. I had a good conversation with the girl that sat next to me at the show about the protests & various ideologies, she left after a while, and I was the last person in the bar with the staff. I decided to walk back to my car and go to sleep.
The trunk of a Civic turns out not to be very comfortable, but being in Chicago for a few days like what I’ve just written about was heavenly nonetheless. I can’t wait to go back, and with $2 on my CTA card, I will definitely be going back soon.