In a virtual repeat of last weekend, Chicago Police arrested 130 demonstrators at Congress Plaza in Grant Park for violating an 11:00 p.m. curfew. The arrests occurred shortly before 1:00 a.m. on Sunday, October 23, 2011 in front of a crowd of 1500 vocal supporters.
Saturday marked the one-month anniversary of Occupy Chicago's arrival at the intersection of Jackson and LaSalle outside the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and near the Chicago Board of Trade. Facing increasing pressure from the city to vacate this location, Occupy Chicago chose Congress Plaza in Grant Park as a suitable site for a permanent occupation. Unfortunately, Grant Park's 11:00 p.m. curfew makes continuous occupation illegal.
To rectify this, on Friday, October 21, 2011, supporters of Occupy Chicago submitted a petition with 10,000 signatures to Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Citing their constitutional right to peaceably assemble, the petition requested an exception to the Grant Park curfew. The Mayor's Office responded by stating that the City Council, not Emanuel, has the authority change the curfew ordinance.
The previous weekend's arrests generated a frenzy of media coverage after the fact. This weekend, the media was in full attendance. An Associated Press reporter paced to and fro, frantically scribbled down notes, and bellowed into a cellphone over the din of the Occupy Chicago drum squad. A Chicago Tribune reporter pressed himself against the fence to see the arrests first hand. High definition cameras rolled as ABC, NBC, CBS, WGN, Univision, and Fox News all vied for coverage.
Saturday's second attempt to occupy Grant Park was officially dubbed, "The Occupation Will Continue!" However, the event was more affectionately known to participants as "Take the Horse." The "horse" is the Bowman statue erected on the north side of Congress Drive.
Occupy Chicago used Facebook, Twitter, and other social media to promote the demonstration. Arturas Rosenbach from the social media team stated that the live Internet broadcast of the tumult last weekend was viewed by thousands of people in Chicago, New York, and around the world, and last night's audience is believed to have been even larger. Likewise, the Twitter hashtag, #TakeTheHorse, ranked number three worldwide. This week, literally, "The whole world [was] watching."
If Emanuel had hoped that inclement weather and last week's arrests would dissuade demonstrators, he was sorely mistaken. During the march at 6:30 p.m., the crowd reached 3000. However, judging from the escalation in police presence this weekend, city officials had braced for a much larger turnout.
The city allocated massive resources to subdue this peaceful demonstration. Officers surrounded all sides of the park with over 50 gathered at the entrance along Michigan Avenue. An assortment of marked and unmarked police vehicles filled the surrounding streets. Sixteen officers on horseback, twice as many as last weekend, worked crowd control. Five Sheriff's Department buses (two on Michigan Avenue and three more waiting on Columbus Drive) stood ready to transport curfew violators. The Chicago Police Department has yet to officially confirm total number of man hours spent for this action, but the cost appears substantial.
Demonstrators asked righteously, "Why is there money to arrest peaceful demonstrators, but not enough money to fund city workers' pensions, provide free public transportation for seniors, or police high crime areas?" Their remarks seem even more poignant in the wake of Emanuel's budget which calls for the closing of three police stations. Another demonstrator behind the fence asked a policeman on horseback, "Why are you arresting them? They are fighting for your pension!"
Although the demonstrators and their supporters again remained peaceful, frustration with the city's handling of these protests was palpable. During the arrests, the agitated and vocal crowd chanted "Shame! Shame! Shame!" A man in his 60s yelled at the police, "You work for Goldman Sachs! You work for JP Morgan Chase!" Others in the crowd were more jovial. They made light of the arrests and called out for those in custody to "smile!"
Outside the park, backlash to the Occupy Movement was audible. At the earlier march, a grey-haired construction foreman stood beneath commercial scaffolding talking with two young Hispanic laborers as the march approached: "These marchers are just a bunch of lazy bums who want things for free while I'm out here busting my ass six days a week." This man's comments did not accurately describe the procession comprised of nurses, machinists, hotel employees, steel workers, teachers, clergy, students, and countless others.
During the past month, the message of the Occupy Movement worldwide has grown clearer. It demands a recalibration of human values. It asks that the lives of the 99% be granted the reverence and attention accorded now to those with political and financial influence.
At 10:30 p.m., the police began to assemble. They barricaded the west side of the park with grey, metal fences. Police vehicles filled Congress Drive. Tower lights were put into place, individuals from the Office of Emergency Management and Communications arrived, and city workers adjusted the traffic light settings for Michigan Avenue.
An energetic and overflowing crowd packed the park while members of the police smoked cigars, made wisecracks with their batons, and sauntered into position. The demonstrators crowded up to the stairs of Congress Plaza and opened a "stack," which allows anyone to voice his/her opinion. Those present debated the wisdom of remaining in the park to face certain arrest. Some suggested the groups split up to make the police follow them; other suggested that everyone stay in the park in a show of solidarity.
The decision was reached to allow those who did not wish to be arrested to leave the park, and that those determined to stand their ground would stay. Throngs left the park and began marching up and down both sides of Michigan Avenue. Meanwhile, those on the park grounds braced themselves for imminent arrest. They encircled a medical tent where members of National Nurses United were stationed. A group of nurses had volunteered to stay the night and offer medical care if anyone needed it. All of these individuals were ultimately arrested in a peaceful and orderly fashion.
As the supportive crowd pressed up against the barriers to bear witness to the continuing arrests, the Occupy Chicago drummers beat a ceaseless cadence that sustained the energy of the gathering. A melting pot of Chicago's communities chanted, cheered, and shamed consistently for over an hour of the arrests. But then, the solidarity of the supporters appeared to wane as the group devolved into a combination dance party and brouhaha.
Then at 1:30 p.m came the most dramatic moment of the night. Arising from clattering and chaos, a hush swept across Congress Plaza as the entire crowd solemnly raised their fists in silent solidarity for those being carted away by the Chicago police.
The arrests were completed by 2:40 a.m., but as of 3:00 p.m. on October 23, 2011, over 100 demonstrators were still being held by police. Last weekend, the police released demonstrators before their fingerprints had cleared. This week, police have extended no such courtesy.
Supporters plan to continue their protest of the curfew ordinance at "Occupy City Hall" scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, October 26, 2011.