Occupy Chicago needs a message

At this moment, 287 cities are under “occupation.” Just seconds ago, that number was 284. By the time you see this in print, I have no doubt that number will be even higher.

It all started with a blog post on the Adbusters Media Foundation website on July 13. It called for all the “redeemers, rebels and radicals out there” to “flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street” on Sept. 17. And that’s just what they did. In solidarity with the Arab Spring and out of concern that America has become a “corporatocracy,” Occupy Wall Street began.

Just weeks later, Chicago’s own occupation is in full force, and even Champaign has a fledgling group in solidarity. In Chicago, hundreds are “occupying” outside the Federal Reserve Building around the clock. Media spokeswoman Evelyn DeHais said the group ebbs and flows throughout the day, but that she’s seen people from all walks of life — students, seniors, people like herself who still have a day job but are contributing, people who call themselves capitalists and “definitely some anarchists, I won’t lie.”

A friend from high school, Joe DiCola, who has been involved in the Occupy Chicago movement since early on, said it is modeled after the series of Tahrir Square protests in Cairo that led to the Egyptian revolution.

I was immediately reminded of the widespread anti-communism sentiment during the Vietnam War, when the mere utterance of the word “communism” was considered to be filthy. But when asked, the number of people that actually could define “communism” was trivial. Was this happening again? Had “corporation” became our new political dirty word? It’s clear the Occupy movement wants to undercut corporate abuse of America, but what are they really fighting for?

I first heard about Occupy Chicago and wondered how anyone could think America was like pre-revolution Egypt. Americans are not tortured on a daily basis. Americans frequently exercise the power of free speech. America’s president acts more like an elected official than a dictator. But I realized we do have a few of the same characteristics found in the Arab Spring countries pre-revolution. High unemployment. Low minimum wages. A borderline incestuous relationship between corporations and democracy.

So what are signs, tarps and tweets going to do about that?

Whereas Occupy Wall Street has made some tangible steps and progress in its efforts, Occupy Chicago has not. In this case, the revolution preceded the goal, in a way. Though there are some very real problems, and they know they want do something about it, Chicago’s movement doesn’t know which direction it’s steering into yet. Instead, they’re waiting to collect concerns from the “99 percent” who are not the wealthiest to take the next step.

“The will and the needs of the people aren’t being addressed because the people in power are using their positions to get money for people who helped them get elected,” DiCola said.

Which is true. But that message is unclear on the website and in protests so far.

“We constantly have criticism for being vague about our message,” DiCola said. “People want it to be perfect. I totally understand that.”

Though the Wall Street-ers have made huge strides in establishing rhetoric and gaining endorsements from unions and other groups, he says Occupy Chicago is “not quite there yet.”

If this message was a little clearer, this movement wouldn’t be treated by some as a group of hippies bored with their lives.

I always rolled my eyes when my Dad had me present my case when I wanted something as a kid. But looking back, it was a priceless lesson in business. If you want corporate people to listen, you have to speak their language. If you want a new bike, you can’t just shove a “WANT NEW BIKE ­— NOW!” sign in your parents’ face. You get straight A’s on your report card. You organize your points: “If I have a new bike, you won’t have to drive me to soccer practice.” You can even embellish a little: “If I have a new bike, I can get home from school faster so I’ll have more time to help Mom with dinner.”

This kind of protest may get the attention of like-minded people, but I’m just not sure what it will have the ability to do. Yes, the economy is bad. Yes, there are a lot of people without jobs. But there’s no one person or corporation we can point fingers at. The economy is bad. But it’s a natural, unstoppable force. Things we can work toward: electing politicians who don’t cave to corporate corruption. Job creation. Encouraging people to vote so we elect people who actually listen.

The Occupy movement represents some incredibly valid concerns. Are they shooting themselves in the foot by acting publicly before having an established backbone? We don’t know yet. What we know for sure is that they’re getting a whole lot of attention — and I hope they find a way to rope that into doing some good before people lose interest.

They’ve got the world watching. Now they need to figure out what they want before we all look away.

_Megan is a senior in Media._