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Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011 06:09 am

Occupy Springfield tries to decide what’s next

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A crowd of demonstrators estimated at more than 200 gathers Saturday at the Capitol to protest all sorts of things.
HOTO BY BRUCE RUSHTON

The march through downtown Springfield two days ago had gone well, attracting more than 200 demonstrators to an Occupy Springfield protest for a few hours of
chanting and waving signs in perfect autumn weather.

Now, on Monday, it is raining, and fewer than 30 occupiers have answered the call to gather outside Chase Bank at 7:30 p.m. to figure out what’s next. There are suggestions that the group occupy the Brewhaus across the street.

“What do we do when it rains the next time?” someone asks. “I don’t know – do we vote?”

Yes, occupiers most definitely vote, and nine-tenths consensus is needed to make a decision. This could end up being a long night.

The website is first on the agenda. How, occupiers ask, can they communicate amongst themselves, keep trolls at bay and still be transparent? There is talk of having one public website and another for the chosen few who will be issued passwords. Or maybe a message board that everyone can read but only a few can change. Benny Ha Ha – don’t ask his real name, he says, because no one uses his real name – is worried about cyber attacks.

“How do we keep it public but keep it from saboteurs?” he asks.

The next big thing will be a demonstration at the Capitol on Oct. 29. There is talk of launching an honest-to-goodness occupation, with folks staying at the Capitol 24/7 to make their point. Just what point they should be making needs to be decided.

Rather than start from scratch, the group goes down a list of a dozen demands generated by Occupy Chicago. Repeal Bush tax cuts, eliminate “corporate personhood,” limit the influence of lobbyists – it all sounds good until they get to the last point: forgive $946 billion of student loan debt.

“You’re going to look silly,” warns Scott, who says that he is 52 and a former stockbroker. “I’m not here to defend the banks. I’m here to defend personal moral responsibility.”

Lots of folks, all younger than Scott, have something to say now. It was between rent and school, one young woman says, and so she chose rent, and now she has no degree but still owes plenty on her student loan. The same banks that made loans to her and others who can’t get decent jobs, she says, are the same institutions that have gotten rich at the expense of nearly everyone else – the 99 percent, if you will.

“They signed a contract, where are the fucking jobs?” the woman says.

There is talk of demanding term limits and Michael Madigan’s resignation, and folks should buy local. The group decides they can fine-tune the list at a future meeting. Benny Ha Ha is all for occupying the Capitol and says that he can help secure food for occupiers.

“Time is imperative right now,” Benny Ha Ha says. “It’s getting cold.”

After two hours, the meeting ends. It is a far cry from Saturday, when throngs of protestors walked around downtown, pausing at the federal building and Chase Bank to chant slogans but leaving U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock’s office and the Illinois Supreme Court unmolested.

Which isn’t to say there weren’t enough issues to go around. With temperatures in the 70s and a cloudless sky, it was a lovely day for a protest, and events began on the Capitol steps with the reading of a manifesto penned in New York aimed at establishing why everyone was here. Corporations, it seems, are the problem, with misdeeds that include discrimination, profiting from animal cruelty and donating lots of money to politicians.

There were as many signs as issues, some more clever than others: I Will Believe Corporations Are People When Gov. Rick Perry Executes One; End The Fed Arrest The Bankers Save The Repblic [sic]; End Plutocracy End Wars; Ron Paul President 2012; Bong Hits 4 Jesus.

Organizers acknowledge that not all occupiers will agree with other occupiers on all issues. Pro life, pro choice – it’s all good, organizers told the crowd.

“We all love freedom and we all love our country,” organizer Chris Trudeau said. “We can agree to disagree.”.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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