Activists from the Stand Up! Chicago coalition, Occupy Chicago, and other supporters participated in the International Day of Action by taking over the LaSalle Street bridge on Thursday afternoon. According to organizers, more than 2,000 people rallied at the Thompson Center and marched to the bridge, shutting it down for over an hour to protest budget cuts and demand jobs. The bridge is just one example of infrastructure around the city in need of repairs and symbolized an “Economic Emergency for the 99%,” according to the groups.
Linking arms, protesters defied police orders to leave the bridge and instead risked arrest. Unlike other cities where police use of pepper spray has almost become commonplace, Chicago officers peacefully removed the protesters one by one. In total, 46 people were issued citations for blocking the roadway, reported the Chicago Police Department. The department’s news affairs office also claims only 700 people participated in the protests.
“I wanted to remind those of us who are lucky enough to still have a job that we’re just one layoff away from losing our health insurance or our homes,” said Jamie Hayes, one of the people engaging in the civil disobedience. “What little safety net we do have in this country will be taken away if the one percent has their way. If that’s not class warfare, I don’t know what is.”
Leaving the bridge. the marchers made their way south to the Chicago Board of Trade building where Occupy Chicago has held its own protests for nearly two months. A banner reading “We Are The 99%” was unfurled in front of the building, bringing loud cheers of joy from many of the participants. Drums and dancing commenced in the middle of the Jackson and LaSalle intersection before protesters linked arms around the Board of Trade building, blocking doorways and stretching the entire perimeter of the building.
Protesters were well aware of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange’s efforts to lower their state tax liability and its strong connection to Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Instead of creating a jobs program or finding ways to keep public employees on the payroll, federal and local governments have decided to implement budget cuts affecting schools, public health assistance, and other programs aimed at helping the most vulnerable of citizens.
The congressional Super Committee is expected to soon recommend drastic cuts or further tie up progress in Washington D.C., which will hurt the economic recovery. Ruth Long, an 85-year old activist with the Jane Addams Caucus, says she is particularly concerned about possible cuts to Social Security and Medicare because of the millions of people who rely on the programs like her.
Locally, the mayor’s first budget will result in the layoff of roughly 500 city employees as well as the closing of mental health clinics and privatization of seven public health clinics. Despite massive protests from community organizations, all 50 aldermen voted in favor of the budget on Wednesday. Around the country, other occupation movements protested by taking over bridges or held large rallies highlighting some of the same problems.
Unemployment and income inequality are just two of the motivating factors to these large protests. Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan return home to a 12.1 percent unemployment rate among the group, which is well above the national rate of nine percent. Will Attig served in Iraq and Afghanistan, receiving two Purple Hearts, yet is unemployed.
“After putting their lives on the line for our country, veterans need to be able to trade their combat boots for work boots,” said Attig at the Thompson Center rally. “We’re protesting on a bridge that is in need of repair. Let’s put veterans to work fixing our bridges and roads.”
Here's more from the rally on that issue and more from the rally:
Another speaker at the rally, Alfonso Pulido, addressed the large crowd by relaying his experience of barely making ends meet. Both he and his wife worked full-time jobs to get by, but with the economic downturn they lost their jobs. Pulido believes he could find work again as a machine operator with a jobs bills.
"We need jobs,” said Pulido. “The big corporations have more than their share of the pie. Enough already.”