Occupy Chicago celebrates, continues mission one year later
Published: Monday, September 24, 2012
Updated: Monday, September 24, 2012 18:09
One year after Chicagoans first rallied together, Occupy Chicago continues to put forth work to get their voices heard and their requests met.
September 23, 2011 marked Occupy Chicago’s formation, just seven days after the Occupy Wall Street movement was established. The Occupy movement continues to rally around principles of social and economic equality and works to combat corporate greed.
“The Occupy movement, particularly in Chicago, has changed in the fact that when it first began, it focused on physical occupation and reclaiming public space to create community,” said Philip DeVon, Occupy Chicago Press Representative. “Since that time, the goal hasn’t shifted, but the tactic to reach the goal has changed.”
Occupy Chicago now operates on a smaller, decentralized basis and works through affinity groups.
It does not have a permanent base of occupation.
“We learned how to branch out and diffuse instead of focusing all time and resources on holding camp,” DeVon said. “It’s allowed a lot of people who would spend all their time getting food, dealing with the police and cleaning up to work on outreach, instead, to bring in new members.”
For its anniversary, Occupy Chicago rallied and marched last Monday in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street. Occupiers met at Michigan and Congress streets and marched to Jackson and LaSalle.
“It was very successful,” DeVon said. “It was cold and raining hard, and we still had several hundred people show up. We also had a large contingent of people from Chicago in New York on Monday representing us.”
On Sunday, Occupy Chicago kicked off more celebration at its birthplace on Jackson and LaSalle streets. Occupiers had live music, speak-outs, poetry and teach-ins from 1 p.m. until nighttime.
But amid the celebration, has the movement fizzled out?
“It comes as no surprise to me that mainstream media says we’re dead,” DeVon said. “They’re only going to say what they’re told to say by the same corporations we’re protesting against. Last Monday, there were 15,000 people rallying in Manhattan. It’s almost humorous to read these things saying that the movement is dead.”
DeVon said he believes the movement will once again become more visible to the public.
“People involved in the Occupy movement are bright, creative, driven and motivated,” DeVon said. “We’re talking about the people who came up with this idea in the first place. The great idea that spawned this whole movement will reiterate itself in a new way soon enough. I’m excited to find out what that way is.”
Occupy Chicago is currently working on a campaign to eliminate money from politics in Chicago, the Midwest and eventually the nation. The movement was involved in the Chicago Teachers Union strike and is working toward a better health care system for Chicago.
Earlier this year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed six of the city’s 12 public mental health centers in Chicago. Occupy Chicago was involved in the protests that ensued.
“Education and health care are public services that are very important to us,” DeVon said.
Roosevelt University offered a political science course called Occupy Everywhere last spring and is there a journalism course called Occupy the Press being taught this semester. Both courses deal with the Occupy movement and its mission. The university also has the student group, originally known as RU@Occupy that launched during the height of the movement’s visibility last year.
Edgar Lara, one of RU@Occupy’s founders, is in his last semester at Roosevelt University and said the group is developing major projects. He said it has around six active members.
“I know what we do will be successful, but we have to get organized first,” he said. “When we tabled last year, we got four or five pages of people that were interested in our group...We need their help. It’s not necessarily RU@Occupy anymore. It’s morphed into a group that’s specifically about countering Roosevelt’s hypocrisy with an Occupy mentality.”
Lara said one of the projects he wants to implement is to organize sit-ins in President Middleton’s office and is currently working on delegating jobs to others so the group will continue after he graduates.
“People who came from Occupy and learned from Occupy are now more valuable,” he said. “We’re not just attacking issues from the outside. We’re going to be working from the inside, getting stuff done.”
Lara said he is working on running a campaign and is using resources from Occupy Chicago to mobilize Occupy from the inside.
The group meets on Thursdays at 3 p.m. in AUD 644.
“Occupy looks thin right now, but it’s getting bigger,” he said. “Change only comes about what you change culture, and changing culture takes years.”
Occupy Chicago continues to have general assembly meetings each week along with regular committee meetings. General assemblies are held every Wednesday at Michigan and Congress at 7 p.m. and every Saturday in different neighborhoods on a rotating schedule.
“For the average person, it’s really easy to get involved,” DeVon said. “Some people show up for just 10 minutes, give a little input, then head out. It’s easy for newcomers to get their ideas across and be heard.”
General assembly meetings are times for general announcements, soapboxes and discussions of procedural advancement.
“I came from a conservative background,” DeVon said. “I’ve been exposed to the misconceptions of family and friends. I encourage people, before they make judgements, to be a part of the movement themselves. If you don’t agree with the movement, talk and engage with people in it.”