Protests just a start for change

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They call themselves “Occupy Wall Street,” and no one should be confused about their numbers swelling and their protests expanding to more and more cities outside of New York City.

They call themselves “Occupy Wall Street,” and no one should be confused about their numbers swelling and their protests expanding to more and more cities outside of New York City.

Their aim is not at a particular location, to be sure. They are aiming instead at a mindset that is represented by the kinds of business that takes place on Wall Street, or whatever street in any city where corporate profits come ahead of the greater good.

Again, it is not just a mindset on Wall Street, but it is also a mindset on Capitol Hill, or in Springfield, or at City Hall that turns a blind eye to suffering, that shreds safety nets so that “job creators” can feel comfortable enough to invest their over-the-top earnings in jobs, rather than just continue to sit on their largesse.

Make no mistake, the protests are growing, and even though there are critics who say the “occupiers” have an unclear agenda, it is that lack of a concrete agenda that is promoting protestors’ growth. What the protestors know for sure is that the unfairness in this country – economic, judicial, educational – must be addressed, and it can only be addressed if it is exposed and protested.

In Chicago, the Occupy Wall Street protestors joined with the “Take Back Chicago” protests, recognizing that their aims were similar, that cutting funding to schools while increasing funding for prisons made no sense. They could understand a protest against corporate tax breaks for local businesses in the form of Tax Increment Financing, while agencies to help people avoid foreclosures on their homes go unfunded.

We’re happy to see thousands come out in protest, representing several organizations – including unions, social service agencies and community activists. We’re happy that finally, grudgingly, several entities in the community have recognized that if they do not unite, do not work together, their constituencies will be pushed further into the margins and never get to say their piece.

The numbers, though disruptive, did not reach the level that signals a tide rolling. But it was a start, and it raised awareness for other organizations that there is a place for protest, there is a voice they can use. Whether the aim is to exhort Congress to pass President Barack Obama’s jobs bill, or to make sure state pensions are properly funded, or complain about banks raising fees while their customers are jobless, we have to speak up. Perhaps an even greater number can come out, with even louder voices, to talk about the unchecked violence that ravages too many of our neighborhoods, or the levels of poverty that are hidden from view – until a national report shines a light on our horrible secret.

Again, this is a start. There are many other issues that deserve to be highlighted, and we need to pressure those in positions of authority to come up with solutions to those issues. The protests must lead to plans, and the plans lead to action. If those plans are met with inaction, then those in positions of authority can be removed.

What the gathering downtown, buoyed by the Occupy Wall Street protestors, showed is that Chicago is not asleep, and that the people can be roused to – if not take back Chicago – at least endeavor to make sure no more of Chicago gets taken.

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