Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dad Occupies Chicago

Dad Occupies Chicago (OC)

Yesterday I went to downtown Chicago to take a civil service test. I got an A by the way--and that is without my veteran's preference because they want a raised seal copy to count it. (They do letter grades here.)

I went to three buildings before I hit the right one. The Illinois Human service department occupies the top floors of a mall rather than being the in state owned high rises that are on either side. After getting there, I was informed that they stopped handing out tests at 12:00 and that everyone had to be done by 1:30 which meant there was time for only one test. Website hadn't stated testing hours, --only 'flexible testing schedule'. Okay. Leave really early in the morning next time.

After the test was over, I started walking down LaSalle. About a block down the street I pass six police men and women with Kevlar vests on. They were just casually standing around and talking. One was drinking coffee of course.

Just past them I ran into a Chinese gentleman carrying a 'No Bank Bailouts' sign. He was with a 20 something young man (also Chinese) who was wearing a Chinese national flag pin and a round button with the stars and stripes. I stopped and asked if they were with Occupy Chicago. Bruce (the middle aged man) answered yes. I asked him to tell me about OC--just that general.

Bruce told me that they were protesting the bank bailout and corporate greed. The economy crashed, people lost homes, have homes that are tens of thousands under water, and the government bailed out the people that caused it. Things are a mess and we need to find a solution. Rich corporations have a stranglehold and are making money both ways. Bruce was polite and calm. As he talked to me he directed protesters to a conference suite he and his niece (A Chicago realtor) had **rented for use of those who wanted to contribute to a group discussion of problems and solutions (open mic it sounded like). Apparently it was getting pretty full and he stopped pointing people there during our discussion.

I mentioned trickle down at one point and he responded nothing trickles down. I told him yes there is something that trickles down and you know what it is. Bruce and the young man chuckled. Bruce continued: 'Look, I have it good. I'm a first generation immigrant; I worked hard, got an education, and was lucky.' He works as a Chicago fireman. Bruce mentioned that not everyone has this chance--and we are paying--we just had a big bailout to fix the economy and it is not fixed.

I said we messed up the bail out. Bruce (Skeptically): 'You really think we didn't need it?' I said I did think we needed it but went about it the wrong way. Me: 'There were homes ready to be foreclosed on. Banks weren't getting their money. No credit because presumed equity was gone. So we paid the banks off. They ended up with the money AND the property--plus bonuses for 'profit'. If we really HAD to have a bailout, then why not pay off mortgages. That way people keep their houses, the banks are liquid and paid off, and people can use their income to live on which gets poured back into the economy. If we had to have a bail out, that method had a better potential to help people along the way and the banks still end up with the money.' Bruce nodded thoughtfully with his head cocked to the side a little, as if he was thinking about it but not sure about the idea one way or the other.

He asked if I had a job. I told him no. Asked what I did for a living. I explained that I had been a teacher and a field engineer. He then explained that there were a lot of Chicago teachers in the movement and began explaining about TIF. According to Bruce TIF funds are used to fund impoverished school districts in the area. His beef here was that Rahm Emanuel (no one I talked to trusted Rahm, Barak, GW, Fox, any TV news media--but Fox in particular, or anyone really from either party--interestingly Ron Paul was mentioned as an unrealistic idealist by a couple of people--some thought him sincere and honest, and some just nuts--but that was the closest thing to a positive evaluation any one politician got.)

Okay, back to the main narrative--Bruce claimed that Rahm declared the financial district of Chicago a TIF area when the businesses had over *500 million in profit. Bruce says this resulted in the people (through tax breaks and credits) giving the financial district 200 million plus. 'Some of that was used for interior renovations in these high rises.' Part of it went to bathroom renovations right there (points to nearby high-rise.) Bruce: 'I just want people to have a chance like I did. It's taking money out of the school districts--hurting kids. The money is going to the wrong people and we need to change the way things work.' I asked him about claims people were being paid to protest. He shook his head. 'I've heard those claims. I haven't met anybody being paid.'

I talked to Bruce a while and walked down the street. I passed more and more protesters the further I went. Everyone was peaceful. Foot and vehicular traffic weren't impeded. They got out of people's way to let you through. Signs said things like 'No Bank Bailouts', 'Financial Executives Got Bonuses! The Bail Out was Wrong.', 'Fix Tax Loopholes' 'Too Much Money in Politics' and 'Stop Corporate Greed'. Signs about the corporate bail outs seemed to be the mode.

There were people of all ages and every look--young, middle aged, and older: people that looked dirt poor, men and women in business dress, with most people wearing comfortable jeans and shirts. Everyone was standing around talking in small groups--mostly like a bunch of small informal debate groups.

I passed a black man handing out yellow fliers and took one. Don't Shop @Take a stand against corporate greed! was blazed across the top. The leaflet continued 'Top Verizon executives took home $258 million over the last 4 years. The company made a billion dollars in profits last year and not only paid no taxes but got a refund of over $700 million from you and me! ..[AND now] they want to slash wages and benefits of their workers...time to join together and say "Enough"

The next flier passer had a Middle Eastern look. He was probably in his forties (old, I know). His half sheet of white paper said "Oppose the U.S. Backed Crimes of the Israeli Government Boycott the ‘Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema.’ ” It continued "Israel has dispossessed Palestinians, forcing them from their land and property, discriminated against Palestinians in schools, living conditions and denied them a democratic voice..."

I didn't meet anyone else who was extremely concerned about that particular issue, but then again, everyone I talked to was clearly there for their own reasons. It was not a group with a list of unified demands, rather most people seemed to key in on the tax system is broken, corporations run politicians, and we are here together to discuss exactly what that means and at least get people thinking about finding solutions.

Another block down I stopped where a grey haired gentleman (Fred) was interviewing a couple of young men. He had an old style large worn leather briefcase that opened at the top end like Mary Poppins’s bag. It was full of books. Fred was asking questions and taking detailed notes. He was asking what people thought the problem was, and how they thought it should be solved.

Fred was NOT a reporter. Fred was an enthusiastic protester. On one sheet he took notes and on the opposite, he had bullet points of what he saw as common themes: Corruption, Wall Street Bailout, Greed, Mismanagement, Lack of Involvement. His common solutions list was short. Many people were concerned about the same things, but distilling a commonly agreed upon solution? Everyone had a different take.

One of the interviewees, Mark (a late 20s or early 30’s brown skinned Linux App and Ubuntu developer and programmer,) is really against corporate bail outs. He feels that the same people are pulling the strings as long as it’s about money. ‘Our society focuses too much on it. Money is the root of all evil. We have to get money out of politics.’ He continued: ‘We act like money is everything. People pretend that it is the only reason people work. It isn’t.’ Fred and I immediately agreed with him. Fred: ‘I work because I want to help people—I’ve worked my whole life. People need to eat, but I work because I want to make the world a better place.’

Fred moves on. Mark says: ‘That guy is never going to piece together something that works likes he thinks he is.’ Mark would like society to democratically choose to do away with money altogether. He doesn’t want any ideology running government. ‘Money hasn’t always existed. People lived and worked together and shared before there was money. Why can’t we do that now before there is a complete crash? People are dying over money. Every war in history has been fought over economics. WWII—it was really all about oil—and Hitler wanted it.’

‘A lot of it was about the Treaty of Versailles and its repercussions.’ I said.

‘Okay, still money though.’ Mark responded.

I agreed that a world without money sounded great but… I asked him, so how would things work without any money? And how would you get us there?

Mark: ‘Money hasn’t always existed. People were fine without money before. They worked, traded, and shared what they had all without money. People are dying—thousands of people every day.’ I don’t know exactly how, but I want everyone together—the people—to find a way before it’s too late; before there is a global economic collapse.

‘That already happened.’ I said.

‘Yes, but another one is coming. Do we have to have millions more die on the way there?’

Jeff (a white 20 something part time college student and local sushi chef)began giving his take on the ideas. [Jeff is holding a ‘It’s not a recession. It’s a robbery.’ sign.] Jeff said to Mark: ‘maybe a total economic collapse is the only way society would ever get to where you are talking about. If you believe it’s happening anyway, wouldn’t that be the place to start what you want?’

Mark: ‘Yes it would, but why should we wait for a bigger collapse? I want to prevent the suffering that would cause.’

In reality, Jeff (like me) was skeptical that we as human beings with human faults and proclivities would ever be able to get to a share and share alike, everyone help everyone else directly democratic society. Jeff thought the idea was wonderful but completely impractical. ‘You are always going to have bad apples in society. There will always be people that are doing what they are doing just to get what they can for themselves.’ What we need is to cut the money out of politics—go to direct democracy.

Direct democracy? I ask. Everyone vote on everything? No, that was not what Jeff meant. Jeff meant he would like to go to a more honest and purer form of representative democracy. He’d like people to put their own messages out—ordinary people can do that now. He wants money out of politics. He believes that politicians are corruptible. His solution: term limits; get rid of perks and retirement for politicians. Stop lobbying. Don’t treat corporations as citizens. Each member of that corporation is a citizen and the representatives need to represent them and all of the other people. Have strict anti-corruption laws.

How do you keep politicians from being bought out just with term limits? I ask. It will just make it so that those with money need to act quicker won’t it? People can still be bought off. Mark likes this too.

‘That’s why we need strict punishment for corruption.’ says Jeff.

Okay I say. But who enforces the anti-corruption laws?

‘The people.’

How? I ask.

'Through the court system.'

There’s your entry for corruption again I said. Someone has to interpret the laws. How do you make sure they aren’t susceptible to being bought off? Mark likes this. ‘Money will corrupt.’ (Mark really is brighter than this conversation is making him sound.)

I’m not arguing against you I tell Jeff. I agree that we need thoughtful change, and I’m glad people are thinking about it. I agree that the bailout wasn’t done right. I’m going to question every solution proposed, because we have to know their flaws. Jeff continued that we had to have strict laws against corruption with heavy penalties and some means of monitoring the courts so that the people could ensure they are fair.

I ask them what they think of the claim people are being paid to protest. Neither one of them knew anyone that was being paid. Both of them had heard news reports on Fox that claimed this. ‘It’s based on an ad in Craigslist.’ said Mark. Fox News probably put the advertisement up themselves.

Jeff said it could have been someone aiming to make the movement look bad, or someone could have actually been dumb enough to actually do it. ‘No one I have met knows anything about it. It doesn’t matter anyway. That’s not what we’re about.’

No it isn’t says Mark. The Tea Party: Now I KNOW some of them are getting paid. I’ve read a lot about that.

I said that I knew some tea partiers and that they were quite passionate about their beliefs as well. I also told them I’d checked out the source for the claim that OWS people were being paid too, and found the same thing: that it was a Craigslist Advertisement. That’s anything but a reliable source. Craigslist, for those of you not familiar with it, is an online free add service that anyone can claim anything on. It’s like a chalkboard on a dark alley. Anyone can write whatever they want, sell or offer whatever they want. Seeing an ad posted on Craigslist for a claim of this magnitude does not make anything real.

I went back to the tea party and asked what they thought about it. Mark thought that anyone who would believe Fox News or the Tea Party wasn’t too smart. ‘But I know people who are smart and feel that way.’ I say.

They may be smart, Mark says, but they don’t think about the world around them. They don’t look at the big picture.

Jeff says he thinks that working with the tea party is important. Jeff believes there are many people in the tea party that are frustrated about the same things. They differ from us because they focus on social issues—gays and abortion. We just aren’t concerned about those things right now. We do have a lot of overlapping areas: The Bail Out, Responsible Finance, Getting Rid of Corporate Welfare, Corruption, Fair Taxes. If we could get them work together with us on those things, something really might happen.

Steve, a white, black haired Chicago math teacher in his early thirties, walks up. You guys talking about the tea party? Yes. I say.

He riffed on the same theme: that working together if both groups could overcome their biases and focus on commonalities, progress could be made. Didn’t see it as likely, but IF it could be done…

Steve is unhappy with the bailouts. Like many he is concerned that ***40% of the wealth in the country is held by only 1%. ‘In the sixties one person could work hard and manage to support his wife and three kids on one income. Can you do that now?’ Steve says it isn’t just TIF that has teachers mad at Rahm. ‘He hurt students by giving money to people who supported him and weren’t in need of a bail out. They were making a profit. That’s not it though. He refused to honor our contracts. Cut pay and funding for students—not in contract negotiation, but unilaterally refused to honor a legal contract that would not expire for another year—even refused to discuss it with us.’

Steve wasn’t hung up on his own finances though. He was quick to correct statistics being used. He said: the other day we were out here chanting tax the rich and people misunderstood. ‘What do you see as rich? Mark: ‘anyone with a million dollars.’ I said I felt I was rich because I have enough to eat and a place to live. Jeff agreed. Steve: A million dollars? I’d consider that well to do, not rich.

Mark: A million dollars in the bank.

‘What if it’s retirement?’ asked Steve. 'We all have different ideas of what rich means.'

In the end it turned out everyone there (including me and except for Mark who wants no money to exist) really meant that they want FAIR taxes. They were all for hard work and people being able to enjoy the fruits of their labors.

Neither Jeff nor Steve wanted to raise tax rates on the rich. They want to get rid of huge loopholes that allow some corporations and some individuals to rake in billions and not pay a realistic amount of taxes. Tax the rich to them means treat everyone fairly and don’t let your wealth mean that the rest of us pay your way just because you can grease the palms of politicians with amounts you consider pocket change.

Most people also wanted to see environmentally, socially, and economically responsible business practices and felt government and large corporations were betraying their natural obligations to act responsibly in order to favor those with power.

In summary, there were people of various views and various levels of common sense. Everyone I met was there because they wanted to make the world a better and fairer place for others. Many varied views and goals, and the whole thing was like a big think tank discussion and debate where anyone was welcome to come in and put their two cents in.

There is clearly no party that at this point benefits from or would have any reason to support this group—if it can even be called a group. The people on the street aren’t out there to support anyone. They are there to say things are broken and they need fixed. The most common theme was searching for a solution to our messed up economy and the belief that we bailed out banks and corporations who are largely responsible for the mess we are in anyway and left everyone else to rot.

Am I worried about this? No, I think it’s a good thing. Will it make a significant difference in how the country is run? Possibly, but probably not, but it is at least getting people together to think about civic responsibility, social justice, and solutions.

*Statistics are the claims of the participants being interviewed, and I have not included independent research on them unless specifically stated.

**Bruce reported that his niece Rebecca? Wooten was chairman of a grass roots collective organization


Gary Trudeau on OWS:


  1. Sorry the text size is all messed up. I've fixed it a once and gave up. The font size being all over the place seems to go well with theme anyway I suppose.

  2. Whatcha doing out in Chicago? Are you moving out there?

  3. Not necessarily. I am looking for work here. Also looking for work in WV, VA, and NC. Judi (who I'm dating) lives here, so I get to visit her and Ruth and look for work in this area for a while. Unless I find a really good job while here, I head back to NC early Nov.