On Saturday, April 7, Occupy Chicago began their Chicago Spring: the name of not just a day of citywide action, but everything planned for the next two months including protests at the NATO summit in May. The day itself was given the hashtag #TakeTheSpring on Twitter, a reference to the movement’s two attempts to #TakeTheHorse (i.e. camp out at Michigan and Congress), which led to 300 arrests and much debate about strategy and tactics. By the end of Saturday, there had been no camping, no arrests and little debate about one thing: With a conservative estimate of over 1,000 people participating, the first day of the Chicago Spring was an unqualified success.
The Occupy Chicago Press Committee’s Rachael Perrota had assured me beforehand: “Saturday is already a success. The diverse communities and groups participating, and the internal organizing structure that grew around A7, will be with us, and strengthened by this day of action, long after NATO has come and gone.” But of course, I had to see for myself.
A Necessary Win
Frankly, it felt to this observer (and to other people there with whom I spoke) as if Occupy Chicago was in need of a clear win.
The movement had been thrown too many curveballs recently: The G8 relocation was a victory itself, but one that required plans to change and made some people wonder if the NATO summit protests will still be such a big deal. Plans for May were also complicated by the unsolicited assistance (or, depending on your point of view, attempt to hijack the Occupy Chicago name) by the magazine Adbusters. Even the unseasonably warm weather of the last few months seemed to throw the movement off balance: The indoor space at 500 W. Cermak, full of potential but also expensive and high-maintenance, was secured for a Chicago winter that never came.
There had been too many marches and rallies where the numbers seemed too low for a city Chicago’s size, too many understaffed committees, too many burnt-out and exhausted individuals. And too many internal debates: about Adbusters, about privacy, transparency and live-streaming, about the Occupy Festival, about the merits of the indoor space versus outdoor occupation. Some of them may have been necessary, but none of them were easy and many of them felt interminable.
Good Omens at the Eagle
The first indication that the day would be a success began, for me, in Logan Square, where Occupy the Northwest Side held an “Occupy the Eagle” action in front of the monument of that name. Local residents brought and accepted donations at a Give/Receive Circle, speeches included an impassioned and affecting call for solidarity from a representative of the Chicago Teachers Union, a mock auction sold off “the historic symbols of Logan Square and the Chicago Northwest side” to the highest bidders, and volunteers from a crowd of 50-60 people joined in an eviction blockade rehearsal/training.
There were more people, and more of a sense of constructive focus, than at some actions I’ve attended downtown in the last couple of months. The Chicago Police Department’s decision to take a hands-off approach to the whole day (reportedly communicated to Occupy Chicago via Jerry Boyle of the National Lawyers Guild) was also in early evidence. Four CPD vehicles may have seemed excessive for such a small, benign gathering, but it was, after all, only one per officer, and they seemed fairly relaxed as they hung around.
At one point I approached a young man who had been drawing with chalk on the pavement, and asked if he’d stopped because the three police officers standing by him objected. (In New York City, that’s an arrestable offense for Occupy Wall Street participants.) The artist explained that he was just pausing to step back and take a look at his work before continuing; meanwhile, the police stood by and watched.
By Joe Macaré
In Part 2: The big march, the Wishing Tree, the return to the Horse, and much more.