CHICAGO-For 12 days dozens of protesters from diverse backgrounds have been camped out around the clock in front of the Federal Reserve here. Outraged by corporate greed, many say they were motivated to act after seeing the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.
They say they speak for the 99 percent of Americans left out, and refuse to remain silent. Their ranks swell to over 100 in the afternoons and over 300 marched down Michigan Avenue Sept. 30. Their numbers are growing and they vow to stay until things change.
One of the demonstrators is Avi Morales who has been laid off from Jewel-Osco supermarket for over 2 months. She was walking by the protest one day and began talking to people. She liked what she heard and stayed.
"I have no job and I'm not in school so I'm here a lot," said Morales, the daughter of a Unite Here hotel worker. "It's hoped that we are making a difference just by being here and it's better than being at home.
"It's exciting, I feel like I'm making a difference. When I go home all I can think about is coming back," said Morales.
Another of the demonstrators is Eric, unemployed for two months, who came in with friends from Goshen, Indiana. "I'm here because I don't have a job and I might as well support something," he said.
Eric's father worked in the recreational vehicle industry and has now been out of work for three years. Before the economic crisis, the RV industry was a major employer in Northern Indiana, but today that area has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation.
"I saw all these people here and figured we might be able to actually change something," he said.
Another Hoosier named John said he was there because of corporate greed. He lost his home to the banks two years ago. He was originally paying $750 on his mortgage but the banks weren't satisfied and doubled his payments, eventually forcing him out.
"A lot of people are hurting and I'm here to support them," said John.
Elisa is a flight attendant and has been a member of the Association of Flight Attendants for 16 years. She says she has been waiting for this moment for two years.
"With the stall in our government, it really makes me mad when they talk about wanting President Obama to fail. But what I hear is they want the American people to fail. And so far they're doing a very good job," she said.
Elisa said she was most concerned about "the unions, teachers pay, health care and our educational system, I'm concerned about the lobbyists, about our politicians being bought and paid for. I want the money out of politics."
Elisa said she and the protesters are getting a lot of encouragement from those passing by and by the steady stream of donations and food.
"People have been saying, thank you for doing this!" she said.
Jenny is a professional writer who said that until a week ago she was feeling terrible about her life and future.
"I didn't feel safe going to grad school, I'm stuck in a dead-end job with no benefits and severely underpaid. I didn't even feel safe having children because what is going to be left for them?"
Jenny saw what was happening with the Wall Street protests and discovered Occupy Chicago and "everything changed overnight."
"I'm not angry or alone anymore. I feel strong for the first time in 10 years," she said.
As a Lutheran, Jenny is deeply motivated by her religious beliefs and by joining the protest has been "living my faith like never before. I've been praying to God to use me and this is the way."
Jenny said she hopes the end result will be a repeal of "corporate personhood" and "we'll tax the hell out of the rich, and that compassion and love will be injected back into the world, that's been missing."
Corporate influence in politics is what brought Austin McLean to the protest, and he's been there almost since the start.
"The corporations are controlling who can run for office and the general population has no say," he said.
McLean works at a non profit children's treatment center and is worried budget cuts will curtail badly needed services. "The least I hope for is that people wake up and start talking about this," he said. "I'm ready to stay here for as long as it takes."
Photo: John Bachtell/PW