As soon as we arrived to Lincoln Park on Friday morning, we knew that we were in for a life-changing experience. Like out a scene from a film, the Occupy LA travelers descended into an outdoors den of Occupiers from around the country. They greeted us right away, shaking our hands and welcoming us to Chicago. They stated their names and the occupations they were from... "Occupy D.C. ... Occupy Wall St. ... Occupy Boston.... Occupy Atlanta...etc." We settled into an environment that is very uniquely "Occupy." Drums were being beat, people were dancing, laughing, talking, lounging, sleeping, forming ciphers to smoke and share herb.
The energy level increased when all of the LA people started to settle in. A boisterous chant circle erupted from underneath the shadow of the trees. Some of the chants new, some familiar. At that moment is when LA occupiers quickly picked up on the chants people used in other cities. "Dance for that anarchy!" was quickly established as a favorite. From there we went to the convergence center, a Unitarian Church housing Occupy Chicago and other Occupiers for the weekend. They fed us and allowed people to hang out there all day. My first 10 minutes in the Occupy basement, I felt like i was back at Solidarity Park, except with the most passionate people present. The other occupiers were primarily young, predominately alternative, talented, eclectic, noisy, and of course, lovers of the marijuana plant.
We marched back to the park shortly afterwards to wait for a bus to take us to a demonstration. The bus took forever to show up and we grew inpatient. We debated whether to march to the demonstration, take public transportation, or wait for the bus. Most of the livestreamers decided to hop on a bus. A group of about 30 of us decided that we couldn't wait anymore and took off to march to the demonstration on our own. We took the streets and became the traffic. It was my first day in Chicago and I was already marching down the middle of the street shouting about "revolution." The police followed us closely and eventually forced us onto the sidewalk. Our feet hurt and we were tired after arriving to Daley Plaza, but we had made it. Apparently, the bus showed up later on; some of the other occupiers were there at the rally already. I overheard Tom Morello on stage as I rushed to the food line to get some vegan grub.
After the Nurses Union rally wrapped up, Occupiers did what they do best, flood the streets loudly chanting, taking over the city. "Show me what a police state looks like! This is what a police state looks like!" we shouted pointing towards the army of militarized robots lining the sidewalks. We were rolling deep in the hundreds (if not over a thousand), but the march fell apart when we got stuck on the bridge. A comrade snatched down a NATO sign and the police were all over him like white on rice. A group of us were almost kettled on the bridge, but we found a way to hop around cars and get past them. It was our only option after an attempt to literally push pass them proved to be unsuccessful. I just remember getting pushed into their wooden batons, and hoping that one of the robocops wouldn't snap and start swinging.
The cops managed to split up the crowd, some of us escaped getting kettled, others were temporarily held up in an area. A small group of us stuck together and managed to navigate our way back to the march once it resumed. We ended up at Grant Park. After hanging out there for a while, a new buddy and I decided to go back to the church. After arriving there, we ate and chilled out. I left while it was still light out to go to my friend's place, where I stayed for the weekend.
The next day, I arrived to the park where everyone was assembled at via bus and rail. I observed the crowd for a while before running into some OLA buddies. The march to Rahm Emanuel's house was long and slow. On the way there, I helped with black bloc and other occupiers clear the road of signs for the flow of the march to continue fluidly. We marched back to the park where we left from after leaving the Mayor's house. There were mentions about a solidarity march for our comrades who were locked up and falsely accused of terrorism. There was also an anarchists march that started at 6pm. It became a challenge for some people to find a way to either march. Commuting became a problem for many occupiers, public transportation fare in Chicago was expensive and people couldn't afford to travel from action to action. I had bought a 3-day pass for $14 so I'd be able to travel freely over the weekend.
Me and a friend contemplated going to the jail solidarity march and decided to return to the church instead. We later found out that some of our comrades were greeted with violence later that night. A group of livestreamers were detained and interrogated. Things were starting to get more ugly. There was uncertainty about the location of the evening march. Tired and not willing to get lost in Chicago at night, I decided to stay planted at the church.
Sunday, I arrived to Grant Park to where there was a full-blown Occustock festival. There were cops everywhere Sunday morning, on every corner, in front of every other store. It was a full blown police-state, totally Orwellian. When I would walk past them, they'd stare me down and clasp at their wooden batons, trying to intimidate me. I stuck with a small group of friends. We marched alongside black bloc for a majority of the route. I started getting bad stomach cramps midway through; they got so bad that i thought I would have to call medic. I couldn't go sit down on the sidewalk or anything because it was lined up with an army of militarized robocops. At one point along the way of the march the cops let loose on black bloc and started swinging like a bunch of barbarians. The march persisted and I continued on with my friends; black bloc caught up with us soon afterwards. Whenever a confrontation would break out, the drummers would dive into a warrior beat that would signal for black bloc comrades to come help out the situation. The media tried to portray black bloc as some threatening domestic terrorist organization. Our most threatening chant was "We're here, we're queer. We're anarchists, we'll fuck you up!" There are pacifists in black bloc; there are medics there to help those who get injured. The media tried to give anarchism a dirty name, playing off of the ignorance of the general public; we wore our rebellion with pride. Since Saturday, law-enforcement was targeting black bloc and other occupiers. People misunderstood the role of the guards of the march. Black bloc was there to protect, not to harm.
We arrived to the proximity of where the NATO conference was taking place. The cops were everywhere and ready to beat at any given moment. After sitting down on the side for a little while, my stomach started to feel better. Former military personnel, including Scott Olsen, gave up their medals and denounced the war. Immediately afterwards, people started to get a general feeling that shit was about to hit the fan. People tried to leave the crowd, but the cops had trapped them inside the barricades. The march eventually continued to move towards a park not far from the entrance of Chicago's Chinatown. Jesse Jackson randomly popped up, seemingly at the last minute, and marched alongside confused Occupiers. We reached the park less than 10 minutes later; the crowd begin to disperse. There were nothing but cops and cops and more cops... Secret Service agents, Department of Homeland Security, FBI, Chicago Police Department, officers from out of state even- it was a complete takeover. The most troubling thought to ponder was the fact that as Occupiers, there was nowhere out in public that we could really go and feel "safe." The cops were targeting us and had a heavy surveillance over most of Chicago.
The small group of friends I stuck with decided to return back to the convergence center at the church that opened its doors to Occupiers. We hopped on the Red Line and headed to the Belmonte station. Pigs heavily guarded the rail station; there were lines of them standing in front of it on both sides of the street, as well as officers inside the station where commuters purchase tickets. At that point we wanted to get the hell out of there. Once we arrived to the church, we met up with other occupiers who made their way back. A small crowd formed around a few Occupiers watching the live-feeds from streamers on their laptops. Another group of Occupiers started to mobilize to go join black bloc folks for the remainder of the march. I had heard that the cops were harassing people on the trains, trying to divert traveling protesters, had blocked off the area to where the march was taking place. At the moment that I decided that I wanted to join the march, I was told that there was no way I could get in because 'they're surrounded by cops.' I stayed at the church and watched on the live-feed as mayhem broke out. Slowly, one-by-one over time, Occupiers begin to come down into the basement with casts and bandages on various parts of their body. I felt like I was in a war zone. Reports of Occupiers' friends getting arrested got responses of exasperation and disappointment. Some Occupiers who had escaped the chaos told of how they saw puddles of blood from people getting their heads cracked open left and right and the city's medics not helping protesters. I helped a girl into the building and down the stairs who had her injured ankle wrapped up. I later spoke to another gentleman whose face was bruised; the police beat him so bad, they broke his nose. Some Occupiers had their heads wrapped; the next day I smoked out a wrapped up comrade who was sore and in pain from the attacks on Sunday night.
I went to my friend's place late that night to catch some sleep. I was back at the church the next morning hanging out there for most of the day waiting for the buses to show up. Occupiers exchanged stories of the battle from the previous night, tracked down lost friends, smoked pot (away from the church), and chanted with pride. The police patrol had increased, considerably in the neighborhood where we were staying. Everywhere we went, walking around Boystown there were blank white vans following us around, watching us- they were full of COPS! Some people were afraid of being kidnapped or interrogated. It was recommended that people stay at the church if they feel more safe, and to not go out walking the neighborhood alone. I was standing down the street from the church talking on the phone with my aunt. She was asking me how much of the anti-police hype was "paranoia" and how much was real. I strongly tried to convince her that we were not imaging what we were experiencing, that the oppression was real, the crack-downs were real, the harassment was real. A police van had drove through a march, hitting an Occupiers just a few nights prior. Right as I was having this conversation, one of those blank white police vans pulled up alongside me. A door open, I heard the cops talking towards me or about me. I see that the van is full of pigs, all dressed in black... one in the middle of the van is filming me with a camera. I flipped them off and turned away from them. The van door closed and they sped off. I walked back towards the church, mic-checked the basement and reminded everyone that the surveillance was thick and that they were now opening their doors filming people.
Occupiers were warned that they were free to join in on Monday's marches if they choose to, but if they are arrested, there will be no guarantee of them being able to leave to return home with their comrades that night. The police presence alone had intimidated enough people to stay at the church. Others were injured, had blisters on their feet, or just plain exhausted after marching for three days straight. There was a lot of camaraderie and solidarity shown our last day in Chicago; we knew our crazy brutal beautiful little experience was coming to an end. The day wasn't without dysfunction, several fights almost broke out and some people complained of having phones or luggage stolen (some was just misplaced as we later found out). There were also a number of East Coast people who wanted to join the LA buses and leave with us. We left Chicago Monday night with the Chicago Police Department attempting to escort us out.
On the road back to California, an Occupier told me that he heard on a police scanner that the Chicago Police Department detonated several bombs in fields in different parts of the city to fool people into thinking that they heard thunder. I remember hearing thunder (without rainfall or lightening) on Sunday afternoon as I was leaving the march and thinking that it sounded more like an explosion instead of the monstrous clap that I'm use to hearing. The Occupier told me that the weather folks were working with law enforcement and wanted to give people the perception that a large storm was rolling through. The "thunder" went off at the same time that the mass Sunday march was ending. He told me that it was being used as a tactic to clear the streets and to get people to leave the demonstration. He said that law enforcement knows that only the die-hards will stay in the pouring rain and that they were prepared to deal with them. I thought it was an interesting theory, but hadn't heard it from anyone else. I also heard that Google Maps was working with law enforcement and pointing people in the wrong directions when they were looking for the meeting locations for rallies and actions. An occupier recalled hearing a Google technician laugh in response to being asked if the company was working with law enforcement that weekend and why the location of a march was pointing to a corrections facility on his GPS. Considering the rough handling from the CPD and 1960s-like deja vu carelessness for activists, some of the claims didn't seem very far-fetched. The movement has been infiltrated by government agents and local cops all over the country. Why would Chicago be any different? The corruption should have been expected.
Occupy Chicago did an excellent job of helping to take care of the hundreds of Occupiers who came to their home; I can't thank them enough. The Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ is amazing for being the ground zero for Occupiers over the weekend and putting up with us and all of the crazy that comes with us. :) I wish more people of faith would walk in their footsteps. Even with the constant threat of the church basement being raided and targeted because of the large number of black bloc participants we sheltered, they didn't turn their backs on us. And also, black bloc is a tactic, not an organized party or group of anarchists that the media tried to make them out to be. As I stated earlier, they are utilized as protectors during marches, but somehow are always vilified for being troublemakers. The reformists don't get it.
My experience in Chicago was amazing and stressful, yet life-changing. I didn't have my head cracked open. I didn't get the shit beat out me. I documented what I could as a media person and as an activist. The kind of stories you won't hear from the mainstream media is how two 20 year old siblings (a few of the friends I stuck with throughout the weekend), helped take care of and look after a 70-something year old woman from San Diego, all weekend. Even when it seemed like an inconvenience, they stuck by her side. And also the stories about people offering housing to homeless occupiers after the nursing union failed to come through for us after arriving to Chicago. You won't hear about the medics who put their own safety on the line to help protect and take care of their injured comrades, sometimes getting injured themselves. You won't hear about moments like the time a group of us were leaving a park and mic-checked the playground where little kids and their parents were letting them know that they might not understand this now, but we are protesting and putting ourselves on the line so that we can help mold a better future for them tomorrow. It was a deep humbling experience. The NATO weekend was a turning point in the Occupy movement. If we weren't sure that this was a revolution before, we damn sure know it is now.
1, 2, 3, 4. I declare class war. 5, 6, 7, 8. Smash the system. Smash the state.
*Head photograph found in the public domain, all other photos by author*