Mike Curtiss (15 Nov 2011)
"Occupy Chicago Pitiful"


The boys wanted to go to The Art Institute, so the family piled on Metra’s 10:35 a.m. train to downtown Saturday. It would, I calculated, have been cheaper to drive — the dreaded family multiplier effect: four people x $3.65 fare x 2 for a round trip = $29.20 transportation costs.
But I didn’t feel like driving. And it was pleasant to sit there and face each other and talk while being whisked to the heart of the great city on a lovely day. We emerged from Union Station to a dull clanging sound.
“What does that mean!?” asked the younger, anxious one.
“The bridge is going up,” I said. At that moment, down went the gates on the Adams Street Bridge, and a pair of rich guys’ yachts could be seen bobbing below us in the river.
My wife was all for watching the bridge go up, and I’ll confess to the little-boy thrill of seeing city streets lurch into the air. We parked ourselves at the rail and waited.
And waited. The transportation folks were taking their sweet time about pressing the Bridge Up button, apparently.
“Maybe there’s some technical problem,” my wife said. Growing bored, we nipped down to Jackson to walk to the museum. The bridge finally went up — at least the western half — while we were crossing the river. We paused to watch one yacht slip under the Adams bridge, but the other seemed reluctant — were it me, were I stopping traffic into the Loop, I’d be quicker about it. But what’s the rush? It’s his world, now. The ants can wait. We pushed onward.
“This will be your chance to see Occupy Chicago,” I enthused to the boys, as we approached La Salle. The older boy — who really is like Michael J. Fox in “Family Ties” — fell into reverie about confronting the “bohemians” for their irrational Marxism.
“You do that,” I goaded. “Feel free.”
When we got to La Salle, the light changed, and we paused before the Federal Reserve and regarded the protest across the street. There was no drumming. There were five or six protesters, two holding signs expressing solidarity with the people of Egypt, who I’m sure appreciated the support.
“That’s it?” said my wife. “Pathetic!”
“Maybe they’ve marched off someplace,” I mumbled, as if I were responsible. “They sometimes go to Grant Park.”
Location, location, location, as the real estate folks say. By establishing themselves in Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan, Occupy Wall Street drew a day of media smirking, because they weren’t actually occupying Wall Street. But the practicality of having space to camp in swelled their numbers and numbers are what protests are all about.
Occupy Chicago obviously didn’t get the memo, and based itself at the heart of the financial center, one of the more tight and unwelcoming corners in the city; I don’t think you could comfortably operate a pretzel cart at La Salle and Jackson. They tried to shift to Grant Park, but were thwarted.
Don’t interpret pointing out this tactical error as lack of sympathy. Regular people in this country need help. That said, the Republicans have become ruthlessly effective at servicing their big business masters, crippling the government when necessary. This paltry response is just feeble. Tea Party ideas — social programs don’t work, taxes and regulations are bad, helping people is not government’s role and best left to churches — have become the holy writ for many, who maybe don’t know we tried laissez faire in the 19th century and the resulting horror led to the government regulation and safety net now under attack.
Protests get attention by their size, which creates a sense of drama, by the possibility of social upheaval and real change. Nobody is going to take significant action because a handful of people are cold. The Occupy movement started strong but now smacks, not of a protest, but a vigil, of those Quakers standing across from the White House, year after years, accomplishing nothing. Occupy Chicago isn’t winning, it’s losing. Entrenched wealth is still busily maximizing its advantages — those pesky EPA standards have to go! And why should employers be saddled with the health care of their workers? The only opposition is this shambling mess, its novelty gone, its numbers dwindling. That was it? Sheesh.