Eager Occupiers — with flowers, signs, costumes and high spirits — descended into downtown Chicago from all directions of the city and suburbs for the April 7 Chicago Spring kickoff. The Occupy Chicago event marks the re-emergence of the economic and political justice movement that was mostly dormant over the winter. On Saturday, though, Chicagoans came out in droves for speakers, workshops, concerts, teach-ins and community-building events that took place all over the city.
In the morning, 50 or so people from Occupy the Northwest Side held a public auction in Logan Square, selling off the neighborhood’s iconic statues and city streets to the highest bidder to protest the privatization of public goods. Meanwhile, Occupy el Barrio — from Pilsen — marched throughout the barrio in carnivalesque fashion complete with “re-distributive pinatas” to break open and share and, representing capitalism, a gigantic “foam skewered pig.” Occupy the Southside announced the beginning of their Stop the American Genocide Campaign and Occupy Rogers Park hosted a community art project. A total of 11 neighborhood actions were held by neighborhood occupations and community organizations before converging on Lasalle and Jackson — the place where it all started for Occupy Chicago last fall.
Rachael Perrotta, from Occupy Chicago Press Relations, called April 7 a community day to connect the struggles of the 99 percent across the city. Emphasizing how Occupy Chicago has intentionally focused on community organizing as a way to build the broad-based movement needed to confront the concentrations of wealth and power in the 1 percent, Perrotta called Occupy Chicago glue that is trying to unite activists, unions and community groups across various campaigns.
The Twitter hashtag #TakeTheSpring, giving homage to the Arab Spring, suggests the revolutionary fervor that many Chicago activists are feeling and the broadening support for Occupy Chicago.
“This is the most diverse crowd I’ve seen,” said Jared McKinstry, an activist from the suburbs, while holding a sign that read “Money ≠ Power” as tourists waved from the tops of double-decker buses. “I love seeing people united and energized for positive change in the community.”
In a statement released to the media, Occupy Chicago participant Trina McGee said that April 7’s activities are intended to unite the interconnected struggles facing Chicago and begin working together for change.
“[Occupy Chicago] will form a new network of allies, and strengthen existing bonds, to build the broad coalition we need to take power back from the 1%, putting it into the hands of Chicago’s people and communities.”
By 1:30 p.m., close to a thousand people had gathered at Lasalle and Jackson and took to the streets as Occupy Chicago marched to Grant Park’s Butler Field for an afternoon of education, music, activities and the Wishing Tree — Chicago Spring’s public art project whose leaves represent the wishes of the 99 percent. The 10-foot tree, made of wood, paper-mache and wire, was assembled in the afternoon with various branches brought in from different Chicago neighborhoods. The Wishing Tree will be used in upcoming Chicago Spring events — the May Day march, the People’s Summit, and the NATO protests — before being delivered to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his top donors.
Sarah V., over the drums and tambourines of the Chant for Change Mantra Meditation Circle, called the day a powerful kick-off event. “NATO is coming, it’s great to get people connected, get them outside, where we are supposed to be. We are creating good energy and raising consciousness.”
The list of afternoon sessions at any one of the stages promised to be engaging. At the Chicago Spring stage, a panel discussion on “Nonviolent Direct Action Against Oppression” was followed by “Everything You Wanted to Know about NATO but Were Afraid to Ask.” Meanwhile, over at the Solidarity Stage, workshops on urban agriculture, the crisis of capitalism, general strikes and nonviolent direct action were featured prominently.
When asked about the role of nonviolence in Occupy Chicago, Perrotta said that they are committed to the tactic of nonviolent protest as the only way to make real change. Recognizing that there are differences of opinion within the Occupy movement regarding diversity of tactics, Perrotta noted that the violence of a broken window pales in comparison to the violence of state and the upcoming NATO summit of “warmongers.”
The preponderance of signs and events on NATO and nonviolence, though, suggest that Occupy Chicago and other allied groups are taking seriously the upcoming protests in late May as a way to connect war, poverty and matters threatening democracy.
The energy remained elevated late into Saturday afternoon. Food Not Bombs prepared a “Freedom Feast” before the evening General Assembly at the Horse — the same Grant Park site of mass arrests last October during attempts at overnight occupations. April 7 organizers estimated that several hundred stayed for the evening GA, which included small group breakouts as a way to integrate new people into the movement.
McGee, in an email after the day’s events, thought the day was colorful, joyful and successful. “There was a tremendous feeling of community and solidarity … People were excited to be a part of this, to learn and grow and educate each other and themselves. Everyone made new friends, had new conversations and built a broad community.”
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