Our whistle-stop tour of Occupy sites started today in Chicago. We visited just past noon, hoping to have time to chat before the 1.30 general assembly. We were greeted by Tony, who apart from three guys in sandwich boards leaning and engrossed in conversation, was the Occupy presence. He saw us standing at the street corner and approached with an often heard line, “where you guys from?” Tony, slightly disheveled, with a stutter and a tick, asked us briefly about the unemployment in England and then asked if we could give him money for coffee. He suggested that we return later in the day, as it was too early for a crowd at that hour. The meeting listed on the website he assumed would not be taking place.

I did return, this time in time for the evening general assembly. Again, there was a very small gathering, although this time a rather chattier one. In the evening, with the imposing Federal Reserve Board of Chicago building illuminated by streetlight,and its sweeping granite facade rising into the night across the road, proceedings had a certain gothic charm.

We swapped truisms of the left to begin with: bank bailouts being indicative of the socialism for the rich system that crucifies the economically superfluous on market forces; a government horribly corrupted by money and violated by corporate penetration; and pertinently in Chicago, the terrible disappointment of Obama and the rage his hypocrisy engenders. One person said of Obama that he speaks well, so he must understand what he is talking about, when someone else jumped in with, “that’s what makes him so terrible, you can be stupid and wrong, but he knows better. He just lies well.” Amen brother. He bombs people to.

Occupy Chicago at night

The question that interests me starting this trip, is how does the Occupy movement go forward. Greedy bankers cavorting with crooked politicians and a complete absence of desire to allocate resources to alleviate the harsher effects of business on the working class are pretty well hashed themes. Nothing is being offered by either side yet in the upcoming election to tackle these issues. How will the Occupy movement get itself represented in future elections? (Ron Paul advocates a more humane/less murderous foreign policy, which will eventually exclude him from serious consideration here. This does correlate with occupy aims, if perhaps for slightly different reasons.)

My first taste of Occupy on the pavements did not inspire confidence. At this point the entire presence on the street was Terry, an old hippy, passionate, motivated and constantly referencing the sixties, as well as a younger man and myself. The younger guy, Joe, had tattoos that suggested prison in his past, said he was unemployed, and if he wasn’t stoned at the time, then he had done enough blah-blah at some point in the past that all the pieces were never quite going back to where they were. He was, however, perceptive, attentive and quite aware of the fact that he was one of the people who were genuinely suffering under the system. I asked why the presence in Chicago had dwindled at what is the official Occupy location in the heart of Chicago’s financial district, why had they stopped occupying?

Occupy Chicago

Tony far right (and loony left I guess.)

I was told that the dwindling presence on the street was due to “kids with laptops”. Joe was adamant that the momentum of the movement had been diminished by an eager rush into an excessive bureaucratic framework that had diluted the potency and purpose of an occupy platform. “There are twenty-two committees now and we couldn’t do one thing properly”, he said, referring to the physical occupation.

“These kids with laptops came in and said that we couldn’t have our signs anymore. That they had spoken to the city. They haven’t lived this though, they don’t know what this is even about”, he went on. I asked him to explain, “they aren’t unemployed, they haven’t had bills they couldn’t pay, they haven’t been thrown out because they couldn’t pay rent.” Clearly there was a sense of impotence that genuine rage had been converted from militancy to politics. “These people, they get together in McDonald’s and Starbucks for meetings”, Joe said incredulously, “can you imagine.”

Occupy demonstrators in Chicago

Tony holding the fort.

Terry concurred, but seemed more willing to work with what, I guess, is now the hierarchy. I suppose there must be a more inclusive name for those people who have nominated themselves decision makers in a fledgling movement, apparently no vote in Chicago took place, but for now I don’t have it and I guess Joe’s is less vague and less printable but just as valid. Terry did keep saying, over and over, “I am so embarrassed you have to see us like this.”

He did quite hearteningly insist that whatever else, a presence remains in Chicago to occupy and make a statement for those people who have been told to go quietly. He then asked Joe if he would be back tomorrow, who responded, “I’ve been here every day brother.” “Yeah I heard that.” “Any chance you got bus fare to get me down here tomorrow?” In the end I stumped up for the fare, so I guess that makes me now a paid up member of the party and a participating cynic. I like it when people like Joe get in the streets, make demands, and don’t ask permission to protest – it defeats the point – I want to join that. Hopefully as we head westward there will be more of this.

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