There's been much discussion about how Occupy Wall Street is a leaderless movement. The incredibly organic, democratic nature of what is emerging is exactly what makes it powerful and inspiring, as well as challenging for the 1 percent to directly attack or extinguish.
Every movement worth its salt has had countless nameless heroes who made tough sacrifices and took incredible risks because they felt a moral obligation to make things right. They believed that justice could be delivered, but for it to become a reality, they had to be among those who stepped up, committed time, and had the guts to directly challenge those who created the injustices of the moment.
That is exactly what thousands of Chicagoans did yesterday in an effort to Take Back Chicago. Here are the names of just a handful of the people who stepped up to lead as thousands hit the streets yesterday afternoon and evening in Chicago.
Rev. Marilyn Pagán-Banks of Northside P.O.W.E.R feels called to directly challenge the bankers that created the crisis and that is why she led well over 600 people from National People's Action to the Mortgage Bankers Annual Convention at the Hyatt Regency. She is the director of A Just Harvest, an anti-hunger organization in Chicago, a city in which one third of area homes have underwater mortgages. Since Wall Street banks brought the economy to the brink of collapse, she has seen soup kitchen lines double as families have lost their homes and jobs.
"Since the foreclosure crisis hit, we're seeing lots of families being forced to double and triple up," says Pagán-Banks. "More and more children are in the lines at our Community Kitchen. It has to stop. We bailed the big banks out, now they need to do their part and agree to reduce principal on millions of mortgages so we can save people's homes and get our economy back on track."
While Rev. Pagán-Banks led the protestors outside, Rev. Patrick Daymond of Southsiders Organized and United for Liberation (SOUL) and Judy Wash of Lakeview Action Coalition were among a team of Chicagoans who had the courage to embed themselves in the audience of nearly 2000 mortgage bankers. They challenged Michael Heid, president of Wells Fargo Home Mortgage to explain how he sleeps at night. Rev. Daymond and others also pressed the bankers to write down principal on millions of mortgages. In the end the mortgage bankers had to shut down their plenary to avoid future interruptions and embarrassment. Meanwhile 40 kayakers dressed in Robin Hood outfits paddled up the Chicago River to the bankers conference chanting "Pay US Back, Or We'll Take it Back!"
Alfonzo Pulido of Stand Up! Chicago is one of the hundreds of thousands of unemployed Chicagoans. When the financial crisis hit, Alfonzo was laid off from his job as a machine operator. His wife lost her job, too. "My wife and I didn't make a lot of money, but when we were both working we were able to save some money," Alfonzo says. "But we're going through our savings fast, and I worry about how my family will get by once it's gone."
While the bankers responsible for the economic crash that cost him and his wife their jobs gathered for their convention, Alfonzo has helped lead actions pushing for job creation to put thousands of Chicagoans back to work. "Congress needs to pass a jobs bill and we need to hold the corporations accountable to put Chicagoans back to work. I keep hearing that the recession is over. Maybe that's the case for the big banks and businesses that crashed our economy, it's not true for my family."
A few years ago Crystal Oduro-Kwarten, a member of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, would not have expected to be a leader in a march to challenge the big banks. But after losing her job at a bank to downsizing, she's felt just how real this recession is. "Did you know that most people are one check away from being homeless? I do." says Crystal. "I had a great job, but was let go because of downsizing and lost my apartment. When I finally found another job I was making half of what I did before. I have joined the fight because we need more to be done to create good jobs and turn foreclosed bank-owned homes into affordable housing."
Maria Magdalena Garcia, a member of the Albany Park Neighborhood Council, was there when multiple feeder marches converged on the Futures Industry Association Annual Futures and Options Expo Dinner. Maria hit the streets yesterday because she knows the money needed to address our nation's revenue crisis is not in the pockets of schoolchildren or school teachers, but is in the coffers of CEOs on Wall Street. "I'm marching to support the education of my son, who is a senior in high school, and all students who are not receiving the right supports in school and do not have access to the kind of opportunities they deserve," say Maria. "Big banks are making millions of dollars at the expense of our communities, and our schools are losing teachers and programs. Education is the hope for all of our futures."
If the movement to take our country back from corporate interests and the super wealthy is truly going to materialize into something worthy of the word, we all need to join with Rev. Pagán-Banks, Rev. Daymond, Judy, Alfonzo, Maria, Crystal and countless others and help lead this leaderless movement. That means starting a group in your city or town or joining one that already exists. It means recruiting family and friends to join the marches and actions being organized across the country, or organizing one yourself. It means facing our fears, and having the courage to do things we didn't know we could do -- whether that means embedding yourself in a mortgage bankers conference, donning a robin hood outfit and kayaking up the Chicago river, or engaging in other forms of nonviolent civil disobedience.
What is emerging is not about one leader or spokesperson, but a movement in which we -- the 99 percent -- all can and need to become leaders. If we truly intend to build movement that has the heft to advance a vision of an economy that works for all of us, it will take all of us joining in.
Organizations spearheading Take Back Chicago include: Action Now Albany Park Neighborhood Council; Brighton Park Neighborhood Council; Chicago Teachers Union; Chicago Jobs with Justice; Arise Chicago; United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America; Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation (SOUL); SEIU Stand Up! Chicago; Grassroots Collaborative; Illinois Hunger Coalition; Chicago Coalition for the Homeless; Lakeview Action Coalition; Northside P.O.W.E.R; National Peoples' Action; Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP)