Protestors pack downtown Chicago

By Contributing Writer

by Aviva Einhorn, Contributing Writer

An estimated 7,000 chanting protestors jammed Monroe Street on the evening of Oct. 10 to denounce economic inequality in full view of a wine and cheese reception hosted by the futures trading industry in the Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago.

The rally climaxed during an afternoon in which separate protests were held at five downtown Chicago locations, each targeting different demands, ranging from more jobs to better schools and an easing of home foreclosures. As rush hour approached, the demonstrators, showing more coordination than they had in the two weeks since Occupy Chicago protests began, started marching through the streets to converge at Michigan Avenue and Monroe for the finale.

The demonstrations were organized by Stand Up Chicago, a coalition of some 20 community groups seeking an overhaul of what they see as a society that increasingly favors the rich.

A crowd numbering in the hundreds had earlier gathered at Daley Plaza, 118 N. Clark St. to air job-related grievances. Concerns ranged from layoffs, benefit slashes, wage cuts and the lack of employment opportunities.

Participants waved signs, handmade or otherwise, and recited empowering chants about reclaiming democracy as they spilled over eastbound from the plaza onto Clark Street. Animated puppets on stilts representing corporate greed towered over the sea of protesters while a student drum line coursed rhythmically through the crowd.

Vince Pesha, of the Service Employees International Union, commented, “We’re here because our wages are down, the banks are taking our homes, and we need to do something to let corporate America know that the greed is exceeded.”

Pesha said he would like to see banks attempting to work with communities to combat the problem of home foreclosure.

“They take the homes away, they lock them up, they become hiding places for drug camps … and instead they could be working with the community. That’s what we’d like to see done.”

Janitorial workers from Chicago Public Schools and the airports were another resounding voice within the chorus of demands.

“The governor wants to take away our benefits. He wants to cut our wages and take away holidays,” said Margarita Bohorquez, a janitorial worker at a public school. “Over 200 people have lost their jobs. I was an exception only because of my seniority.”

Yvonne Hudson, a Chicago resident, joined the protest under the banner of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. Hudson has been out of work for two years and has been homeless since July of this year.

“I’ll be proud to say I used to work for HSBC [Holdings PLC],” Hudson said. “I’ve seen it myself, with the interest rates they were giving people on their homes they have caused a lot of foreclosures.”

Hudson said she can’t get a loan for housing because she is unemployed, and she is unemployed because of the struggling job market. All of the factors have forced her into shelters and prompted her participation in Stand Up Chicago, she said.

“I work for the county highway department. I have a public sector job,” said Jim Jeske, of the SEIU executive board. “That’s another reason why we’re out here, to put a human face on unionism. It’s been demonized so much we just want to let people know we’re good folks, we’re your neighbors. We pay taxes just like you do. We’re not an exception.”

Jeske said he would like to see a jobs bill passed, and policies that go beyond just a bail out program. “We need to get some good union-paying jobs back in Chicago. It’s something that is vitally necessary to the economy.”

Mildred Rueda, a janitorial worker at O’Hare International Airport and a single mother, said she worries that if her salary is cut, her family will suffer.

“They’re trying to lower our wages. Right now I’m getting paid $15.30 [per hour] and Mayor Emanuel wants to lower that to $11.18. Another thing is he doesn’t want us to unionize. He doesn’t want us to have retirement, healthcare, holidays, vacation … that leaves us with almost nothing.”

At nearly 5 p.m. the protesters leaving Daley Plaza made their way east down Washington Street towards Michigan Avenue, where they were joined by their equally emphatic cohorts.

Police flanked the massive crowd, keeping protesters condensed into two lanes of traffic. Alive with the clamor of bucket drums and the megaphoned voices of the front liners, Stand Up Chicago flooded the 100 block of East Monroe Street. in what appeared to be a rally timed to the start of the Futures Industry Association reception.