Forest Park resident Deb Jensen went down to the Loop, on Oct.11, to participate in the Occupy Chicago protests for the first time, feeling a little like the character Howard Beale in the 1976 movie Network. In one scene, he shouted, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.”
That’s how Jensen feels.
“I am full of rage for what has happened to my life and what I see happening around me every day,” she said. “In my mind part of the fault lies in the corporatization of our political system. I think we have lost our voice to the people who can afford to have a very loud voice. I don’t care at all if somebody is rich. Good for them, but for a millionaire to have a stronger voice then I have is where we’ve gone wrong.”
Jensen convinced her friend Rose Mattax to join her at the protests that were centered at the corner of Jackson Boulevard and LaSalle Salle Street in front of the Federal Building, last month. (The protestors have moved locations several times, and are currently battling with city hall to find a permanent place to gather.)
Mattax said she instinctively felt a kind of calling to participate. The pair decided to dress in choir robes to reveal that part of their motivation was religious. The church ladies, as they call themselves, wrote a kind of manifesto that was mounted on a sign Mattax held high while protesting.
It read: “We represent the diversity of the 99 percent and are here to show that Christians aren’t just right wing conservatives. Liberal Christians love Jesus too. What the church ladies want to see most is health care reform, campaign finance reform and tax reform. Furthermore, stop spending our money on wars. We also believe true lasting change only comes with a change of the heart, so we are calling on the 1 percent to repent of their addiction to greed and the 99 percent to repent of their apathy.”
John Buno said that he was aware of the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York, but until his wife, Rose Mattax, invited him to join her in dissenting, he was not aware of the offshoot in Chicago.
Health care reform is at the top of Buno’s list of motivations for participating, he said. Because he and Rose are both self-employed and have no health insurance as a corporate fringe benefit, they are paying for a policy with a $10,000 deductible.
“The thought of getting a long-term illness scares the heck out of me,” he said. “That could bankrupt us and make us lose our home.”
Both Buno and Mattax are also angry about what they perceive as the lack of accountability following the Wall Street meltdown.
Mattax explained, “What really tipped the bucket for me was that we got audited by the IRS last summer. I was just livid beyond livid that they picked on us, while absolutely nobody is in jail who melted down our financial system.”
Jensen also told Forest Parker Mary Dye about what she was doing, and on Oct. 15, Dye made the group a foursome.
Dye said she joined the protest out of a desire to restore “liberty and justice for all” – values on which the United States was founded, she noted. She argued that the value of liberty has been grossly misinterpreted lately.
“If you read the documents connected with the founding of this country, it’s not about the freedom to trounce on people,” Dye said. “It’s about building a just society in which we care for one another and don’t lose our humanity.”
The four Forest Parkers said they were impressed with the rate at which the Occupy Chicago protests have grown (this is also happening in cities across the country, where other offshoots of the Occupy Wall Street protests have popped up in recent months).
They said that, on Oct. 11, there were about 40-50 protestors, whereas the last time they were there, over a recent weekend, the number was well over 1,500 gathered in Grant Park. The number of protestors fluctuates from day to day, and those involved have moved to and from several locations in recent weeks, among them: City Hall, the Chicago Board of Trade and Grant Park, to name a few.
What impressed the four Forest Parkers the most about the movement is the attitude of many of its participants. Dye said the protestors are, on the whole, “some of the most educated, articulate, well-read people I’ve ever met.”
“If you go down and actually meet the people … you’re not going to find a bunch of inarticulate, unfocused, angry people,” she said.
Jensen, who admitted to feeling enraged, was amazed at how her participation in the protests changed her mood.
“I go down there and spend hours with the occupy movement and that rage dissipates. What I feel is peaceful,” she said. “I see compassionate people who are somewhat hopeful that they are truly starting a consciousness-raising movement. I think we’re experiencing history.”
In response to the charge leveled by some that the Occupy protests are good at venting frustration at what is wrong with America, but poor at coming up with proposals to turn things around, the quartet pointed to a 12-point list of demands that the protestors have posted online (http://occupychi.org).
“Am I anti-capitalist? No. I’m not anti-anything,” Jensen said. “I don’t want to change the game. I just want the old rules back in place.”
Nick Moroni contributed to this article