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Occupy Chicago joins the party

Updated: December 19, 2011 8:16AM



With the temperatures in the high 20s and a brisk, bitter wind knifing across the Loop from the north, Occupy Chicago dwindled to exactly two people Thursday morning, at least as manifested at the corner of La Salle and Jackson.

“It picks up later,” said Don Kuss, 54, of Humboldt Park, who was half of the pair. “Be at the Thompson Center at 3:30.”

The other occupier, a man in his 20s, stood by a loudspeaker blaring reggae music but refused to say anything at all.

With Occupy Wall Street claiming it would shut down the New York Stock Exchange, jam the subways, and close the Brooklyn Bridge during rush hour (is that a smart strategy to try to win support from poor worker bees heading wearily home?) plus actions nationwide in what was called maybe “the biggest day of protests ever,” this seemed an apt moment to return to our local Occupy, which complained after I noted the distinct lack of protesters Saturday.

“Just because we aren’t visible doesn’t mean we aren’t there,” wrote a reader identifying himself only as “McCarter” and claiming to be on Occupy Chicago’s press committee, adding, “Stay tuned and watch our movement on 11/17.”

Kuss, the lone occupier who would talk, gamely held up his share of the argument.

“Over the past 30 years, we’ve seen a massive redistribution of wealth, from poor people to rich people,” he said. True enough.

While the occupiers seem to believe they own the topic, they seem more a symptom of the problem than an agent for the solution.

You don’t need to fill the streets for Americans to know their needs are not being met. Many already sympathize with the idea that jobs should be created, wealth should do its share and government should try to fix social woes.

I agree with those goals. I’m in the 99 percent. Where they lose me is the “and we’ll stand in the street until change happens” part. Because the Republicans, having gone through their own experiment in social protest, when it was warmer, are now hitching up their foaming horses to the civic wagon and getting ready to climb into the driver’s seat, give the reins a snap, and drive the country off in the opposite direction.

Leaving Kuss, I paused before gray shelving holding various Occupy supplies — signs, loaves of bread, jars of jam, a Cheerios box. A sign read, “This is SO not over.” Perhaps.

Mary Kay Scheid, heading to her job at the Bank of America, stopped to look too.

“What’s the point?” she said. “It’s ridiculous. I don’t understand what they’re trying to protest. They need to get a real message.”

Scheid, an institutional retirement relations manager, who has worked at BoA for 14 years, takes a dim view of the protest.

“I have to go past it every day,” said the mother of three. She left, but immediately returned to add one additional thought.

“It doesn’t feel good for anybody,” she said, noting that Bank of America is in the process of firing 30,000 employees. The protesters “should go to D.C. — it’s Congress that’s the problem. We’re working here.”

Scheid might as well have been reading my mind. Politicians know that if they don’t get elected, nothing else matters. Money is important in politics because it helps candidates get elected. The rest is chin music.

Leaving La Salle Street, I stopped in at the CVS at Washington and Wells to warm up. Customers were waiting at four automatic “Express Checkout” units, scanning and bagging their own gum and shampoo, under the watchful eye of a single CVS employee, while three cash registers sat unused. That means two clerks who once rang up sales now aren’t needed, part of the huge economic forces — aided by government bumbling, business scheming and public complicity — that are grinding regular people to powder.

How is that going to be chanted away? How long must I stand in the street before a white-collar worker in India stops being eager to earn $6,000 a year?

But I hadn’t seen the day’s highlight. Off to the Thompson Center at the appointed hour. A good turnout, heavy on labor types, nearly filling the little plaza, a few speeches, then hundreds marched up La Salle Street, across Wacker and blocking the La Salle Street Bridge at rush hour as some sat down and 46 were ticketed by police as the sun set, one day closer to President Mitt Romney.



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