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Little diversity among ‘Occupy Chicago’ protesters

Occupy Chicago StUp Chicago Workers United among other groups btogether Wednesday October 26 2011 march downtown Chicago Board Trade. |

Occupy Chicago, Stand Up Chicago, and Workers United, among other groups, band together Wednesday, October 26, 2011 to march in downtown Chicago to the Board of Trade. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 23, 2012 2:54AM

On Wednesday, I dropped by the “Occupy Chicago” protest in front of the Chicago Board of Trade. It was fascinating.

At one point, there were more uniformed police officers stationed in the courtyard adjacent to the Board of Trade than there were protesters.

But that didn’t stop a young man with a bullhorn from heckling the officers.

“This is what a police state looks like,” he kept shouting.

Now that 300 people have been arrested for being in Grant Park after the park’s 11 p.m. closing time, the protest has kicked up a notch.

The “occupation” is no longer just about Wall Street. Now it’s about free speech and the right to assemble peacefully.

The group of protesters marched over to City Hall, trooped around an unmanned information desk, and then piled into elevators to confront the mayor on the fifth floor.

Needless to say, the mayor wasn’t in.

So far in Chicago, the protesters and police are in a polite standoff.

“We are a peaceful movement. We do not advocate violence of any kind,” said a protester who peered at me from behind a grim reaper mask.

But from what we are seeing in other cities, it looks like the longer the “occupation” goes on, the more intense it becomes.

This week in Oakland, Calif., the protesters clashed with police after officers tried to dismantle their encampment. More than 1,000 people took to the streets, and police used tear gas in an attempt to disperse them.

On Wednesday at City Hall, stoic police officers were expressionless as the protesters shouted their demands:

“We want Rahm!” “We want Rahm!” “Drop the charges!” “Drop the charges!”

A woman read a petition she claims bears 12,533 signatures from people around the world.

“Stop the mass arrest of protesters in Grant Park. Don’t let this end like 1968. Don’t let the Chicago Movement be forced out. Let those who occupy the streets have a place where they can stay,” she pleaded.

On its face, it is difficult to see myself in the 99 percent these protesters claim to represent. They are mostly young, white college students, although a few middle-aged and senior citizens were in the mix.

And I suspect a lot of professionals are not cheering these dissidents on.

In fact, I overhead one well-dressed Asian man tell a group of bicycle cops at the scene that they should “bring out the tear gas and call it a day.”

“You would be doing me a favor,” the man said.

When I caught up to him and asked why he felt that way, he sheepishly changed his tune.

“That’s the great thing about this country, you can stand up and say what you want, but I think they made their point,” he said.

While the protesters were listening to speakers before marching on City Hall, an elderly white woman walked past calling them “Sons-of-b----.”

But what really struck me was the small number of black and brown people among the marchers. I had to hunt for Brian Johnson, a 40-year-old African-American male who was surrounded by a group of college-age white males wearing bandanas.

Johnson said he is committed to doing whatever it takes to support this cause.

“If we would pay attention to this movement, we would understand that it is not about young white people. It is about all of us,” he said. “A lot of people are struggling when they don’t have to.”

Zakiyyah S. Muhammad was the only African-American female I spotted.

“I’m here because this has gotten the attention of the people who make policy, but I don’t think enough of us has gotten involved,” she told me.

“It’s a funny thing to see white people marching and black people sitting around talking,” Muhammad mused.

“White people are marching for change like we used to do and black people are complaining.”

I left the protesters sitting on the floor at City Hall. Fists raised.

Something is definitely wrong with that picture.

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