‘Occupy’ seeks home base

By Darryl Holliday

Unlike their brethren in New York, Los Angeles and other nascent Occupy groups around the world, Chicago’s protesters don’t have a place to call home.

As demonstrated on Oct. 15–16, when nearly 200 peaceful protesters were arrested in Grant Park, the options seem to have come down to a constantly mobile protest or civil disobedience. Because of city law, protesters can’t set up an overnight camp at the city’s Federal Reserve, where they’ve ranged in numbers from 30 to several hundred, nor can the month-old movement stay in Grant Park past 11 p.m.

According to members of the movement, a central location in which Occupy Chicago can set up a permanent camp is vital to the movement’s survival and growth. The decisions of 175 protestors to be arrested rather than leave the park because of a city ordinance was largely in pursuit of a place to call their own.

“It’s time for the mayor and the parks department to come forward and either call off these police from arresting and silencing our nonviolent political protesters; or to justify why they believe their policies regarding the closing of a public park are more important than the first amendment,” said David Orlikoff, an Occupy protester.

The attempt to occupy Grant Park, while arguably unsuccessful, has spurred conversation within the movement and has become a top priority at the group’s consensus model “general assemblies.” The group has spent time since the arrests researching the law and scouting permanent locations. Several spots around the Loop, including the group’s usual assembly site on Congress Parkway and Michigan Avenue, the Thompson Center, and a vacant lot owned by Columbia, have been proposed.

“Having a home base for the movement gives a permanent space where people who maybe aren’t connected to typical activist circles can show up and get an introduction to the movement,” said Micah Uetricht, a field organizer for Arise Chicago, an interfaith labor organization.

Uetricht, who provided narrative tweets of the Oct. 16 rally, was also one of the non-violent activists who decided to risk arrest rather than leave the park. Orlikoff was also among the first group arrested.

“[When] 11 [p.m.] hit, nothing happened,” Uetricht said of the rally. “I was surprised there were still so many people there at 11 p.m. willing to risk arrest … [the police] gave the dispersal order over the ‘peoples’ mic’ [around 12:30 a.m.]. We all linked arms around the camp we had built.”

Though he wasn’t planning on getting arrested in the beginning, Uetricht was inspired to by the end of the night.

“I thought, ‘There’s no way that I can’t be part of this thing,’” he said, noting the global response from protesters around the world on social networks like Facebook and Twitter. “At some point, I decided it was worth it.”

Though members who were arrested owe the city a total of more than $25,000 in fines, according to Occupy Chicago’s website, the search for a permanent location continues, as of Oct. 20.

Visit ColumbiaChronicle.com for updates on the Occupy Chicago movement.