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David J. Unger/MEDILL

Themes bring focus to downtown protests

by David J. Unger
Oct 12, 2011

It seems, these days that everyone with a beef takes to the streets.


Although organizers say the common bond of many of the protests is economic inequality, some critics

have painted the protests as unorganized and unspecific.  

Tuesday’s series of staged sit-ins in downtown Chicago challenged this perception by dedicating a day of protests to one topic: housing.   

“The mortgage bankers and the rest of Wall Street created a bunch of toxic loans and pushed them on people and as a result they crashed the economy, and now people are losing their homes by the millions,” said Toby Chow, a student and community leader with Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation.

“Our message is: If you’re going to kick us out of our homes, we’re going to move in with you.”

The day of protest, called “Take Back Our Homes,” was organized by Take Back Chicago, an umbrella organization comprised of roughly 20 community and labor groups.  

Organizers say the day began with members from Brighton Park Neighborhood Council boarding up a foreclosed house at 4325 S. Albany Ave.  

The group then hand-delivered a bill for their services to a Chase Bank in the Loop. Organizers say the house is owned by Chase Bank and they accuse the bank of not properly maintaining the vacant property.

Before being taken away by police, demonstrators with Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation occupied the pedestrian walkway of the Hyatt Regency Chicago hotel at Wacker and Stetson, the site of the Mortgage Bankers Association’s annual conference.  

A mere hour later, members of Action Now arrived at a downtown Bank of America to dump trash they say they collected at a vacant property owned by the bank.     

Catherine Murrell, a spokeswoman for Take Back Chicago, said additional protests staged by Albany Park Neighborhood Council took place outside the Chicago Association of Realtors at 200 S. Michigan Ave.

She said the protests, which were dramatic, highly orchestrated events with more than a dozen arrests, were an effort to draw media attention to a failure by banks to maintain vacant properties, as required by a recently approved city ordinance.  

Murrell summed up the day’s events with a message to bankers: “If you’re not going to come to our neighborhoods and clean up your vacant buildings, then we’re going to bring the neighborhood to you.”

Among those arrested Tuesday were five women up to the age of 80. Arrests notwithstanding, interactions between police and protesters were civil. 

“The fact of the matter is, they are part of the 99 percent,” the Rev. Marilyn Pagán-Banks, executive director of A Just Harvest, said of the police. “We’re doing this for them, too, and I think they know that, but they also have to do their job.”

In what might be viewed as a curious call for solidarity, demonstrators outside the Bank of America chanted “Give the cops a raise” as fellow demonstrators were being loaded into a police vehicle.

Take Back Chicago was also behind Monday’s series of marches, which culminated in thousands gathering in front of the Art Institute of Chicago, and will stage additional days of protest this week.  

Wednesday’s events are focused on education. Organizations under the auspices of Take Back Chicago will then turn their attention to employment for a day of protests Thursday.