Today I headed down to LaSalle St, center of Chicago’s financial activity, to see the OccupyWallSt presence in Chicago and see what I could learn about them.

There were probably a hundred people chanting, banging on drums, and holding various signs outside the Chicago Board of Trade and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. A good amount of cars honking in support.

I spoke to this family who had come in from an hour and a half out to take part. The mom felt a little bad about taking the son out of school, but she said that since he’s supposed to be learning about democracy anyway, what better place to be than in the thick of things? The son, for one, was loving it (especially the drumming) and wore on his back a sign that read “I’m 10 and will never see Social Security – I am the 99%”.

The protesters held a “general assembly” while I was there, giving everyone the opportunity to raise any issue or concern. It was mostly logistics, sharing tactics from OccupyWallSt New York, and morale-raising. Afterward, I spoke to two guys, one of whom more or less led the discussion. They had both been there off and on for a few days and felt like it was their responsibility to be there.

I tried to probe and figure out what specifically they were aiming to accomplish and what had brought them down in the first place. I can’t say that I got a firm sense, but they were both very much leftists who were angry with the current situation and institutions in place. They weren’t against the bailout in theory, but how it was used to rescue private interests without nationalizing the banks. They dismissed any substantial overlap with Tea Party anti-establishment sensibilities. The problem seemed not to be power and centralized authority in general; corporate power is overwhelming and government power incorrectly utilized. They certainly seemed sincere.

Others I talked to wanted to abolish the Fed, massively overhaul monetary policy, or do away with capitalism in general. One guy really just wanted to complain about City Hall.

Overall, I think the day cemented my belief that there are legitimate grievances (it’s hard to be in favor of crony capitalism), but the idea of protesting not for anything in particular seems weak. There has been a lot of varied media attention, most not positive. Are there protests in your city? What are your impressions?

One additional note:

I didn’t know about Jonathan Hoenig until I read his article on the Wall St protests, and I suppose that it shouldn’t be surprising for the Managing Member of Capitalistpig Asset Management LLC and frequent contributor to Fox News to sit comfortably in the political commentary niche he’s made for himself, but there is at least one thing to correct:

There is no right to disrupt traffic or occupy other people’s property, no matter if it’s one lunatic individual or the 99% of the public protesters claim to represent. What’s so lamentable about “Occupy Wall Street” isn’t even their collectivist goals but the means by which they go about to achieve them: force and intimidation.

It’s a little unclear whether he’s specifically talking just about NYC, but for the record there was absolutely no “force and intimidation” on display, and I can’t imagine that the half dozen police keeping very close watch would have let any slip by. The protesters went out of their way to insure that a lane for pedestrians remained open at all times. They also were not in the road, so were not disrupting traffic, and were on no property but the public sidewalk.

The only moment I witnessed over a couple hours that could have led to a heated exchanged was when a businessman walked through the protesters’ general assembly meeting and called out “profit is healthy!”. I may agree with him, but if there were a moment for “force and intimidation”, that would have been it. Needless to say, nothing happened.

By the way, if you want to buy Nazi coins, you can do so on Hoenig’s site.

The mom said that the family was just there for the day, and tomorrow it would be back to school for the son. He groaned and asked if he had to. Of course, the mom replied, laughing, “not everything can be a democracy.”

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