This post is a part of the “What Democracy Looks Like” weekly column, which covers left-wing movements and activism. Formerly known as “The Active Left.”
Occupy Wall Street and the rest of the Occupy Together chapters have been calling for everyone in the 99 percent to come together and have also tried to grow a more diverse movement.
Here in Chicago, two very successful events might have helped out in both those regards.
With Occupy the Hood and now Occupy the South Side being planned, it seemed like building solidarity with the Latino and immigrant community was a crucial next step for the growth of the movement.
On Tuesday, November 8, immigrant rights activists along with members of Occupy Chicago set forth the event “Occupy el Barrio” in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois.
Around 30-40 demonstrators showed up to the rally at Plaza Tenochtitlan despite harsh weather conditions. In what was a cold and rainy night, the event started with the first dozen or so activists circling the plaza and chanting the Occupy staple, “We are the 99%.” Several other immigrant rights chants were done in Spanish.
After 10 or so minutes of chanting, the demonstrators decided to get a speak out going. Most of the people in the stack spoken in Spanish and the now infamous “people’s mic” was in use during the demonstration. One of the speakers included a young female student, who along with her friends, came to the rally wearing mime makeup because they felt that as Latinos and students, they “did not have a voice.” Another young man pointed out the hypocrisy of the current administration and the rest of the Democratic party when it comes to the issue of immigration. One main point being the fact that although he President Obama had a pro-immigrant stance during his presidential campaign, he has already overseen more deportations than George W. Bush did in his entire two terms.
One gentlemen, who had been active during the Vietnam-era protests in America, warned the young activists present about the role of the police and the state as was demonstrated during the Kent State and Jackson State University massacres in the 70s.
Many of the speakers were encouraging the community to come out to Occupy Chicago events, and pointed out the fact that many of the services in danger of severe budget cuts from Chicago mayor, Rahm Emanuel (aka Mayor One Percent), would harm the community. Some of those include cuts to the Chicago Public Libraries and to the Chicago Transit Authority, both crucial services to that neighborhood.
After representatives from Occupy Chicago offered an official invitation to Occupy el Barrio to the General Assembly, several of the demonstrators took the trip to the assembly at Grant Park as an Occupy el Barrio contingent.
The other successful event for the 99 percent came Thursday, November 10, during the final CTA budget hearing at Kennedy-King College.
Hundreds of CTA workers along with members of Occupy Chicago came out to protest the proposed budget cuts to public transit. Bus drivers, train operators, transit passengers and occupiers let the CTA board hear their grievances.
CTA workers–many of them members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 241 and Local 308–spoke out against CTA President Forrest Claypool’s attacks on not only their work ethic but also on his accusations of the workers’ “fancy fringe benefits.”
Claypool, who was appointed by Emanuel earlier this year, warned there would be a fare hike unless the transit workers were to take cuts to their benefits and their compensation. This is of course an obvious attempt to pin the working-class against each other. However the people made it loud and clear that the 99 percent was not going to fall for it.
One personal highlight came when an ATU official led a verse of the legendary union anthem, “Solidarity Forever” over the people’s mic.
Another pleasant moment occurred outside as occupier and members of the OC Labor Outreach Committee sent out an invitation to the CTA workers for their committee meetings. In the end, the occupierg present were successful in introducing the workers to the infamous OWS finger waving, the people’s mic and most importantly the notion of solidarity between the 99 percent.
Chicago is a hyper-segregated city where the communities of poor working-class people of color are always hit the hardest when it comes to cuts. For anyone that lives in Pilsen or any other neighborhood on the south side or the west side, it’s obvious that what is needed is more funding for the public transit services, not less. As the CTA workers made it clear on Thursday night, the Chicago transit service accommodates all of Chicago equally. At the same time as doing a disservice to its residents, it puts its workers through dangerous and extraneous conditions on a daily basis.
I see the two events as monumental not only because they tackle the ruling class’ classic attempts of scapegoating immigrants and labor unions, but also because the two struggles are connected in so many was.
Occupy el Barrio will meet every Tuesday at 6pm in Pilsen. The CTA board will vote on the budget next Tuesday, November 15 at 1:30pm.