Wednesday, October 12, 2011

No Place for a Revolution

Having spent some time with the Occupy Chicago folks on three days, I have concluded that it is not the social revolution that they would like it to be. It is not a popular uprising. It is not any threat to the government or to business. It is just a bunch of well-meaning people peacefully and creatively demonstrating their dissatisfaction with the way things are. There is nothing wrong with that, and it is probably a good thing that they are there. They have pushed some of their opinions onto the news. They have reinvigorated their base. They have shown the average person who is suffering in this economy that there is an alternative to the hate-based Tea Party. But they haven't mobilized a lot of people yet, and they aren't likely to, standing on the corner of LaSalle and Jackson in front of the Board of Trade and the Federal Reserve.

The problem isn't the message that the protesters are voicing. A lot of the people on the street expressed agreement with the protesters. But people who are at LaSalle and Jackson are there because they are going somewhere, mostly in a great hurry. They aren't there to stroll, like they might be on Michigan Avenue. There are no sidewalk cafes or open-air markets, such as those that are found in other countries where we have seen mass protests. There is no plaza where people relax and discuss the issues of the day. The train stations are underground or indoors, several blocks away. People don't wait around a public square as they do elsewhere for day labor jobs. Millennium and Grant Parks are not even in sight. This is not Madison, Wisconsin, where the state capital grounds are right in the middle of town.

Like most of downtown Chicago, all that there is at the corner the protesters are occupying is a sidewalk which is just wide enough to accommodate the pedestrians and a few smokers who have been banished from their workplaces. Hardly anyone lives downtown, and it costs money to take a bus or train or taxi there, so there are no mobs of restless unemployed people just waiting for some rally to gather around. Other than a few tourists who seemed amused by the protest, the only people who are there are the ones with jobs. They might be sympathetic to the protesters, but they aren't about to give up those jobs in order to join a movement of people who are protesting that there aren't enough jobs.

If people get upset enough, they might go to the trouble of joining the occupation. Tens of thousands assembled in Chicago a couple of years ago to protest the wars and to rally for immigration reform. But either people aren't that upset about the economy yet, or else they just don't see this occupation as the event they want to bother going all the way downtown for. So for now, the occupation isn't bringing the system to its knees. It is barely bringing people out on a beautiful autumn day.

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