Jackson: The Faces of Occupy Chicago ...

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Editor's note: The Occupy Chicago movement was a fixture at the corner of Jackson Blvd. and LaSalle Street in the financial district this fall.

They marched down Jackson to Grant Park in protest of corporate greed, saying they represented the "99 percent" of Americans. Many camped in Grant Park. Some were arrested.

But going beyond the movement, who were these people who spent hours out in the cold, carrying signs and chanting. And why were they there? The Red Line Project focused on three protestors -- and their stories.

By Ashley Huntington, Robert Odden and Margaret Thompson 
The Red Line Project
Posted: Monday, Nov. 28, 2011


By Nov. 1, the Occupy Chicago protestors were facing what is likely their largest obstacle yet — inclement weather.

But Metz wasn’t phased.

As a member of the Occupy Chicago secretariat and coordinator of the general assembly, Metz, 24, is working tirelessly for the movement organizing events and making legal and financial contacts for the movement.

“Surprisingly,” he said, “our numbers have actually been increasing despite the onset of the cold weather. We’ve never topped the turnout when had on the first night in late September, but we’ve had better and better attendance for the scheduled marches and general assemblies.”

He said he believes this is because of the movement’s national momentum, and because of the outrage in early November at the Occupy Oakland protests, where police used teargas and sandbags to break up and arrest demonstrators.

Chicago was one of the first cities to jump on the Occupy Wall Street bandwagon in late September, vehemently protesting everything from foreclosure rates to military spending to the 2008 financial bailouts. The Occupy Chicago movement has since attracted thousands of demonstrators each week to the South Loop.

Metz also works full-time at DePaul University’s Brownstones Café in Lincoln Park — a job which he says pays the bills, but is not what he was looking for after gradating from DePaul in 2008 with a degree in biology.

“There are people down here who have it way worse than me,” Metz said. “I have a job with healthcare; tons of the people out here tonight are unemployed, and rightly angry about it.”

The anger was apparent during the Nov. 1 march from the corner of Jackson Boulevard and LaSalle Street to Grant Park. Megaphones, drums and makeshift protest signs dominated the protest route from 7 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., where hundreds of Chicagoans spoke — or rather, yelled — out against corporate greed.

“Our democracy has been usurped,” Metz said. “We are no longer represented, and that’s why we’re out here.”

Metz added that participating in the Occupy movement has been one of the most incredible things he’s ever been involved in. “

That first night when over two thousand people showed up,” he said, “I felt like my whole body was turned on. It was one of the most amazing feelings I’ve had so far in my life.”

Wyl Villacres Photo

Villacres, 23, a Columbia College Chicago student, shares many of Metz’s grievances, but has remained skeptical of the movement’s organizational style since the beginning. This has not stopped him from getting involved.

“I’ve been observing the movement from day one via the internet,” Villacres said. “About a week in, I went to my first general assembly, and I grew skeptical of their intensely democratic process.”

However, Villacres said he has been on the “losing side of corporate greed,” and agreed with the basis of the Occupy protests, which fueled his interest in the movement.

“I have tens of thousands of dollars in student loans,” he said. “And the job market is dismal.”

Villacres mother, Lisa Villacres, is a teacher in Chicago, and he said her ongoing struggle also led him to the movement.

“The state has been borrowing against teachers’ pensions with very low priority on paying the money back,” he said. “I think we’re all being personally affected by corporate greed pretty much all the time.”

When Villacres heard of the mass arrests of protestors in Grant Park, he decided it was time to take a stand and formally join the movement. He has since decided to write a book based on the Occupy protests, interviewed many fellow demonstrators, submitted a formal petition to the Chicago mayor’s office regarding the protestors’ rights to peaceably assemble, and been arrested himself.

“Five days after I started the petition, I had more than 10,000 signatures,” he said. “Seeing that amount of people come out in support of something I believed in, even something as basic as peaceable assembly rights, was just amazing.”

Villacres said that the Internet has been at the heart of the movement’s success.

“I got the petition out to that many people using one tweet and two Facebook posts,” he said. “The internet is very powerful.”

Villacres plans to continue working for the movement indefinitely, on top of his job working in the computer labs at Columbia and being a full-time student.

Hoffpauir, 29, and has been participating in the Occupy Chicago protests since the movement’s fourth day. She currently holds two part-time jobs, and has chosen not to pursue a degree due to the high costs and low return of a formal education in today’s economy.

“I just fail to see how it’s feasible with how much I already have to work and how much debt I’d have to put myself in just to go back to school,” she said.

Like many of the movement’s dutiful participants, Hoffpauir first heard of the Occupy Wall Street protests on Twitter.

“When I attended the first general assembly,” she said, “I already agreed with everything that they were protesting against. I felt angered and robbed when the banks were bailed out on our dime, and pissed off that Wall Street basically played with people’s money stocks.”

Hoffpauir has participated in nearly every major march since the movement arrived in Chicago, and says that she will continue to work for the movement until regulations are put into place for financial institutions.

“They can’t be trusted,” she said. “They’ve already shown us that their greed is unending, and there’s no end to where they’ll destroy this country.”

Interactive map: Key locations during the Occupy Chicago movement.

View Map of Important Occupy Chicago Locations. in a larger map

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