Chicagoans turned out by the thousands to participate in the local observation of a national "day of action," synchronizing Occupy movements across the country to protest cuts to social services and demand that the federal government prioritize job creation.
Representatives from Stand Up! Chicago, Action Now, the Jane Addams Senior Caucus, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and other groups gathered at the Thompson Center Plaza Thursday afternoon for a rally where citizens who stand to be affected by the proposed cuts told their stories.
"I used to sit home and cry thinking about the children, families and seniors living in abandoned vehicles and cardboard boxes under the viaduct with no insurance if they got sick. Then I took action," Ruth Long, an 85-year-old member of the Jane Addams Senior Caucus, who has suffered two heart attacks in the past year and said she'd rather take on a third fighting than stay safely at home, shouted to the crowd at the rally. "I'm not just worried about me...I know lots of vulnerable people, and defenseless Americans...who are suffering because of the greed and selfishness of the one percent."
Kenny Borst, who is unemployed and has been blind all his life and spoke on behalf of Disabled Americans Want Work Now (DAWWN), reported that proposed social service cuts would devastate people with disabilities, who have the highest unemployment rate of any protected class. Will Attig, a 27-year-old Iraq and Afghanistan combat veteran, spoke to the plight of returning soldiers.
"At the age of 18, I volunteered to serve our country and served with honor for six and a half years," he said. "I received two purple hearts. Two years ago I went from being a soldier and a hero to not having a job, a degree or a future. This is happening to hundreds of thousands of veterans that are returning from war right now...they're coming back and having to fight a whole new fight."
A mass of demonstrators then marched down LaSalle to occupy the LaSalle bridge, where planned civil disobedience was underway. Nearly fifty demonstrators wearing blue jackets emblazoned with "JOBS NOT CUTS" stood, arms linked, in four rows on the north edge of the bridge. After Chicago Police gave a second warning that demonstrators blocking the roadway could be subject to arrest, the protesters sat down, and were eventually escorted off the bridge by police.
Police report that 46 people were issued citations for not exercising due care as pedestrians, and report that they were aware of the planned disobedience prior to the event. Police and the protesters were cooperative, and several demonstrators chatted and even laughed with officers as they were escorted off-site.
"I wish they never would've done it at all, but as far as being arrested goes, they were cooperative," Chicago Police Lt. Robert Klich said. Supporters of the arrested demonstrators packed the bridge, and some expressed hostility towards the police, but the scene did not escalate. One officer complained only that "they picked a cold day" to stage their demonstration.
"The weather was so much nicer last week!" he said, smiling.
The march continued Thursday evening as Occupiers gathered outside the Chicago Board of Trade with a massive "We Are The 99%" banner.