The choppers were back. Was Blago released from prison already?
With hundreds of NATO and Occupy protestors gathered in Horner Park Saturday afternoon, congregating at the corner of Irving Park and California, news helicopters once again buzzed overhead, hoping to capture what? A riot that never materialized, as the marchers peacefully hoofed their way down Montrose to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s house.
Whatever the protest looked like from the air, on the ground in the park it felt more like a picnic. Small groups engaged in conversation, snapped pictures or sat under trees, munching on plates of free food. It was all so very orderly, folks were actually double checking garbage bins to make sure they separated recyclables.
And then the chanting started.
What do we want? Healthcare. When do we want it? Now.
Mayor Rahm, Mayor Rahm, don’t take healthcare from my mom.
Victoria Cervantes of Little Village has worked in healthcare for more than 20 years. She ventured to Horner Park to show her support for the Mental Health Movement, which has coalesced around opposition to the mayor’s plan to shutter half the city’s public health clinics.
“We already don’t have enough resources,” she said. “They don’t need to take more away.”
What did she hope to accomplish by marching on the mayor’s house?
“It’s another way of pressuring the mayor,” she said. “He can’t just keep stonewalling people and their healthcare needs.” The clinic closures would affect some of Chicago’s most vulnerable residents, she noted, people who lack the power to affect government policy themselves.
“It’s all a matter of priorities,” said Cervantes. If taking care of its citizens were a priority, “then they’d find the money.”
Fight, fight, fight. ‘Cause healthcare is a human right.
The protest stepped off shortly after 1 p.m., winding its way through the park to Montrose, where marchers quickly flooded the street. Police were positioned at major intersections – Western, Lincoln, Damen – to hold back oncoming traffic, giving the protestors a straight shot down the avenue.
Anti-protesters failed to emerge; apparently it’s one thing to threaten harm on the Internet and another to take action. Instead residents and employees of local businesses whipped out their cameras to capture the passing parade.
One, we are united. Two, we are the people. Three, the occupation is not leaving.
Ain’t no power like the power of the people, ’cause the power of the people don’t stop.
The Occupy movement, which seemed to have lost steam over the winter, feels re-energized. Liam O’Loughlin, a graduate student involved in Occupy Pittsburgh, believes it’s important to keep applying pressure.
“I’m not sure there is an end game,” he responded, when asked what he hoped to accomplish by marching. “It’s a long, continually unfolding process.”
Of course, that’s been the criticism of Occupy – it doesn’t know what it wants, or rather it wants more things than the movement can possibly articulate in a single soundbite. For his part, O’Loughlin is most disturbed by “corporate power overriding electoral democracy.”
How do his concerns mesh with the motivations of the healthcare crowd or the anti-war group? O’Loughlin sees a commonality in their underlying message, which is that of the disenfranchised 99 percent. “We’re injecting class back into political discourse.”
They say cut back, we say fight back.
Priscilla Lynch, a member of the Code Pink anti-war organization, traveled all the way from Massachusetts to join the Chicago protest. The Code Pink message: Bring our war money home.
“Stop using our resources to fund these wars,” she said. “The people’s money for the people.”
Rahm is stoppable, another world is possible.
As the protesters turned onto Hermitage to march the last few blocks to the mayor’s house, the police presence increased by an order of magnitude. A wall of officers decked out in riot gear lined up along the sidewalk, using their bikes as a temporary blockade. The precautions weren’t necessary. The mass of demonstrators simply sat in the street and chanted anew.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” said Sarah Small, who hails from Philadelphia. “The Occupies have been so different everywhere.”
She did find similarities, however, between Chicago and her hometown, which is facing its own round of deep budget cuts. “It’s totally messed up funding priorities. There’s money for prisons and militarization but not schools.”
The role Occupy can play, she continued, is to provide the imagination and creativity to help communities “absorb some of what the state isn’t doing.” Which sounds a bit like the Republican mantra of private as opposed to public sector solutions.
“I know,” she said. “It’s a delicate situation, so we’re not responsible for everything the state can’t provide.”
And just like that, the choppers were gone.