In an effort to "Take Back Chicago", thousands of activists and protesters from five separate rallies converged at the Art Institute of Chicago yesterday evening to draw attention to the economic crisis affecting employment, housing, and school funding.
In an effort to "Take Back Chicago", thousands of activists and protesters from five separate rallies converged at the Art Institute of Chicago yesterday evening to draw attention to the economic crisis affecting employment, housing, and school funding. Members of the Occupy Chicago movement also took part the large-scale march and rally.
At the Hyatt Regency, dozens of attendees from the Mortgage Banker’s Association Convention Expo looked on in amusement as people gave testimonies about their hardships and a group of people dressed as Robin Hood hung a sign from the DuSable Bridge before marching to the rally.
Tracy Jones, a resident of the South Side whose home was foreclosed on after she lost her job in 2007, joined in the protest. She says she had extreme difficulty in working with her lender to try to save her home.
"They have been very obstinate in working with me in any way," Jones said. "I wasn’t even by myself. I had an agent and a negotiator and they gave us the runaround."
Here's more from the rallyers:
Chicago sits second among large U.S. cities when it comes to foreclosures. A newly-proposed ordinance could further heighten the problem as banks will be required to lower their average foreclosure process from over a year down to six months.
One advocate says there are many housing proposals on the table at both the local and federal levels that could be detrimental to families who are already struggling.
“Here’s just one funding source on the chopping block," pointed out Jennifer Ritter, executive director of the Lakeview Action Coalition. "A federal grant program designed to strengthen urban communities by developing affordable housing and by providing foreclosure prevention services. Could there be a worse time to cut this kind of funding?”
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development already saw an $88 million dollar grant get slashed from their budget during negotiations in Washington this past spring. The grant money was used to fund housing counselors around the country, who helped advise homeowners on foreclosures and other housing issues. Furthermore, the House Appropriations committee did not include any federal funding for the program in the recent budget bill for 2012.
Inside the Mortgage Bankers' Association Expo, Wells Fargo executives met to discuss further revenue potential. Rev. Patrick Daymond and other activists infiltrated the meeting to demand answers from banking executives. The question and answer session was cut off before Rev. Daymond and his colleagues could pursue further questions.
“They talked about the future and how the future looked bright that African American and Latino communities still wanted a home even though mortgages were underwater,” said Rev. Patrick Daymond in regards to mortgage bankers discussing ways to continue to profit. “They talked about the future, but continued to ignore the present realities that plague our communities right here in the city of Chicago.”
U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-9) spoke to those participating in the housing march and called out the practices of Wall Street.
“What Wall Street doesn’t need is more tax breaks,” said Congresswoman Schakowsky. “What they need is more customers.”
Schakowsky recently introduced a bill that would create more than two million jobs and accompanied it with another bill to increase taxes on millionaires and billionaires to pay for her proposed jobs bill.
“We bailed out Wall Street but when you come and ask to refinance your home are they there to help you,” she asked. The crowd quickly responded with a deafening no.
The protesters marched in solidarity towards the Art Institute’s Modern Wing where the Futures and Option Expo was reportedly holding an expensive dinner gathering. The five marches came together to overtake Monroe Avenue. Two marches were designated to take back jobs, two others to call for more education support and the last one dedicated to homes.
At various points during the protest, rallyers shouted “Shame, Shame, Shame” towards financial expo attendees, but they also sat in a chilling silence. There was one arrest and police issued several citations. Police also removed protesters for engaging in civil disobedience; the group had linked arms in front of the entrance to the Modern Wing in a mostly symbolic act.
The Take Bacl Chicago movement is coordinated with the support of several organizations and labor unions. The massive effort is calling for a 25-cent speculation fee on each contract at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board Options Exchange. According to the group, the fee would raise an additional $1.4 billion in annual revenue and fund 40,000 jobs in the city.
"This is a tax whose time has come," said William Barclay, an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago's Liautaud Graduate School of Business and a board member of the Illinois Finance Authority, who pointed out that the UK and Hong Kong have similar transaction taxes in place.
Executives at both exchanges are threatening to leave the state, despite their deep roots in the city. CME is demanding special treatment in lowering their corporate tax liability with the state. They are currently negotiating with Governor Pat Quinn and the General Assembly.
But those protesting in the Take Back Chicago movement say big business has had enough preferential treatment.
“Our priorities are all wrong,” said Marjorie Fujara, a pediatrician at Cook County Hospital. “We are being subjected to draconian cuts over the past decade. Many of the best professionals I know in nursing and medicine are leaving because they are worried about job security and it’s getting harder and harder to take care of the patients because we have fewer resources to do more with.”
Images and video: Aaron Krager