The morning of October 15th had been brisk, and the wind still whisked dry leaves down the street like tiny yellow glitter bombs. I was crossing S. 2nd St with my camera bag on one arm, noting with some concern the line of grey-haired Tea Party protesters holding American flags along the north curb of State street.
The sidewalk in front of Chase bank was bare but for a few empty-handed strangers looking over the flag line, and the sparse carpet of leaves that had collected in the cracks and crevices of the pavement.
I balanced my bag on the newspaper dispenser outside City Hall, noting the quiet and the empty building just a block away from the location of the planned Occupy Rockford protest. It was about 12:20.
Just as I began snapping pictures of the flags and the bank sign and the Tea Party supporter in Revolutionary War period costume, the motley band of protesters came into view way down by the State Street bridge. They marched from Beattie Park that day, led by a veteran in full urban camo -holding a giant pole with a cannon on it’s full-sized flag and the words, “Come And Take It”.
I crossed the street a few times that day, looking for better camera angles and trying to fit the whole of both crowds into frame, but my heart and mind remained on that cracked and broken sidewalk in front of the cold stone structure that housed JP Morgan’s local Chase branch. I had been in the guts of that building once as a child, on “Take Your Daughter To Work Day”. My mother had worked in the basement when it was owned by Bank One, stuffing handfuls of envelopes into a machine that slit them open and then pulling the checks out to enter them by hand into a chunky IBM computer. She had earned just slightly more than minimum wage for it, but it was an extra paycheck for our family until electronic banking became popular and envelope-openers all over the country were no longer needed.
The 99% marched up the street towards us calling out and repeating phrases like, “Show me what democracy looks like! THIS is what democracy looks like!” carrying signs and flags and cameras of their own.
About 200 people came up the hill that morning, from the chilly right-leaning shadow of the Rockford Register Star building. They reached the sidewalk in front of Chase bank and occupied the whole of it, raising each other’s energy levelwith drums and more chants and whistles and exchanges with drive-by onlookers. Many honked and thumbed up or down, some raised a fist out the window in solidarity with the 99% united, a few raised middle fingers or scowled quietly while staring straight ahead at the stop light. Most seemed excited or supportive and a few even gaped in surprise, squinting to read the signs as if they were completely unaware of the globally promoted day of occupation that people in over 1500 cities worldwide were participating in, even as we came together on an otherwise quiet Saturday afternoon in downtown Rockford.
The Tea Party counter protest was a modest, mostly respectful affair, across the street. They had about 30 people in all, and at one point the whole group was ushered together to give the impression of a tightly-packed crowd behind the interviewee for a local TV news outlet.
They sang “God Bless America” (we joined in when we heard it) and watched our chanting shouting mass of true diversity -retired folks, musicians, young, old, white, black, Hispanic, Asian, working, unemployed, domestic, career oriented- as we met and talked and cared so much about our country and way of life that we were willing to stand elbow-to-elbow with total strangers and attract their enmity by our very presence.
Eventually they rolled up their flags and left en masse. Occupiers shouted thanks to them for coming down, genuinely believing that despite the Tea Party’s top-down trickle of mis-information and corporate funding they were still a part of the same 99% and helping to raise awareness of the root problem that ultimately brought all of us to that place on that day.
The power of corporate greed has corrupted the American way of life.
The Occupy Rockford movement stayed another hour or so, eventually marching to the park for a General Assembly and then back to the bank to stay the night, albeit in much smaller numbers. The movement exists both out there on the sidewalk and in the virtual world, with online points of contact like occupyrockford.org and on Facebook with 2 groups and a community page. Sympathizers can commit as much or as little time as they are able -but every little bit is helpful and appreciated. Whether you’re able to camp out on the sidewalk in true occupation any given night of the week, or write a few insightful comments online in defense of our true purpose, it matters and we thank you for it. No effort is too small.
This group of American citizens has no leaders, no political affiliation, and no corporate sponsors.
We are not spoken for by our Tea Party opposition or the local media that has quietly slanted headlines and camera angles in support of them.
We speak for ourselves by our occupation, by our unity and by our respect for each other and even our opposition.
We cannot be defined by the least of us, or even by the greatest.
We are the 99% of this country who are NOT thriving or benefiting from the gradual dismantling of the American working class.
We are you, and you are welcome to join us.