Various occupations across the country have managed to establish permanent bases. Some have enjoyed more cooperation with the city and less police repression than others. Occupy Chicago is one occupation that has not been able to establish a home yet. Despite that, the group has grown in the past four to five weeks.
Occupiers planned to “take the horse” in Grant Park on Saturday night. Just like one week ago, they anticipated many arrests because the city intended to enforce the park curfew, which is 11 pm.
A march to Grant Park was organized at about 7 pm to Grant Park. About 1000-2000 showed up to support. Many rank-and-file union members came out to lend support to Occupy Chicago’s effort.
When the march reached Michigan Avenue, a line of horses blocked the street. Occupiers and supporters of Occupy Chicago crossed into Grant Park and gathered around the horse statue. It was just after 8 pm when everyone began to settle in the park. National Nurses United setup a medical tent. A few others setup some tents on the grass. People began to speak about why it was important to occupy this square.
A member of the Machinists stood up and declared, “We aren’t starting class war. We’re just no longer willing to tolerate class war that has been waged against us.” A member of Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) stated, “For too long we have let capital divide us.” And, one younger woman explained how she had never been involved in politics up to this point because it made her feel unimportant but now she had finally found something that gave her hope.
The crowd began to thin in the final hour before the park was to close. Tension built up in the crowd as a twisted form of the General Assembly played out. An unplanned debate transpired between people over whether to stay or go to the Thompson Center a few blocks away and occupy. A person asked the crowd to divide itself and drew a line. Those who wanted to stay and be arrested were to stand on the left and those who wanted to go to Thompson Center were to stand on the right.
Various occupiers stood up to address those who were interested in leaving the park for the Thompson Center. They were blasted for considering this option, especially since this decision had already been made. People were going to stay and get arrested because when they arrived at Grant Park it was not blocked off to prevent people from entering the park. But, those in favor of going to the Thompson Center questioned the value of getting arrested tonight especially if the number of people arrested was not going to be more than last week. They also noted that they did not have the numbers they thought they would (because many of the rank-and-file union members that had come out to support did not stick around).
This “debate” went on up until the last minutes before 11 pm when a police commander got on a bullhorn and actually tried to get people’s attention by asking for a “mic check.” He asked a couple times if he could get a “mic check.” Then, he announced the park was closing and anyone not leaving the park at this time would be arrested.
Barricades began to go up along the sidewalk. Those who weren’t intending to be arrested left the park to stand on the sidewalk on the outskirts of the park and across the street on the other side of Michigan Avenue. The police tried to relocate the crowd on the sidewalk so organizers formed a picket line.
A group gathered around the nurses tent that had been erected. They stood around and then sat down as police forces began to amass on the northwest side of the park.
Pizza was ordered and delivered after midnight. Initially, police would not let the pizza into the park. The crowd shouted, “Shame! Shame! Shame!” People got up from under the nurses’ tent and ran over to the southwest corner of the park to get the police to let the pizza into the park. The police relented and there were loud cheers and those about to be arrested enjoyed some slices of pizza before the arrests.
A waiting game went on for almost an hour and a half until police finally moved in to make arrests. The situation was very calm and controlled. What unfolded was similar to watching a group committing civil disobedience in front of the White House fence, like the Tar Sands protesters. The police arrested each person one by one. Every person had been informed their behavior would determine the nature of their arrest and from 1 am to 2:45 am the police peacefully walked occupiers out of the park and loaded them into buses and vans.
Two nurses from National Nurses United remained with the occupiers and were the last to be arrested. The police dismantled the nurses’ tent and the nurses smiled and waved to the crowd. Police put the zip ties on the two nurses and the crowd chanted, “NNU, we love you! NNU, we love you!” This chant resumed as the two nurses were loaded into a police van and then driven away to the police station at 18th & State.
Police let the occupiers “reclaim” tents and other property they had left in the park past curfew. This starkly contrasted with what happened to Occupy San Jose at 3 am this morning. Occupiers were sleeping in their tents last night when police ambushed them and tore up and confiscated all of Occupy San Jose’s property.
It is hard to tell if these arrests will benefit Occupy Chicago. The occupation desperately wants a base of operations somewhere in the city. Ever since they began to protest in front of the Federal Reserve Bank in Chicago, they have been prevented from setting up any sort of base in the city.
More than 300 people have now been arrested. If the occupiers can lead with clarity and communicate to Chicagoans that they are waging a struggle over a right to public space, they may be able to earn enough support to push the city into giving them a site. Of course, with Rahm Emanuel as mayor, nobody expects to see the city accommodate this occupation.
Organizers believe the city may try to keep those arrested in jail for 48 hours. They suspect they may be held to “intimidate the Occupy Chicago movement.” The following is being encouraged:
1. Call the Mayor’s office at 312 744 5000 (or 311) to demand the immediate release of all Occupiers.
2. Join the protest at 18th St and State St to demand the release of Occupiers and to let our brothers and sisters there know we are standing in solidarity with them.
3. If you can: send out press releases, contact your local political representatives and forward this announcement to all lists.