Telling Durbin "no cuts"

NINETEEN PEOPLE, including union and clergy members, occupied the Chicago office of Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin on November 9 to make four demands:

--1. Block the "debt ceiling sequester" cuts. Say no to austerity!
--2. Reject Simpson-Bowles or any other "grand bargain" that attempts to balance the budget on the backs of the poor, working people, the sick or the elderly. Protect the social safety net. No cuts to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid!
--3. Block the extension of the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent. It's time for the rich to start paying their fair share.
--4. Support and fight for progressive sources of revenue. Impose a Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street financial speculation, tax capital gains as normal income and close corporate tax loopholes.

Meanwhile, 70 people rallied in the lobby of the federal building, and around 400 gathered outside, calling for Wall Street to pay their fair share and for Durbin to ensure that the social safety net not be cut in ways that will be devastating for working people.

When the 19 entered the senator's office, the staff derided them before calling in the police. "Today's lesson," wrote Jacob Swenson, a member of Graduate Students United at the University of Chicago, who was arrested in the action, "is Senator Durbin is committed to doing the wrong thing and using the violence of the state to suppress democratic discourse."

When he was released from jail, Swenson was bruised on the face and arms from the police response. He described what happened:

After sitting peacefully in Durbin's office, waiting quietly to see the senator, I was subjected to what's called "pain compliance," where they twisted my wrist as they tried to pull me to my feet. As he did that, the arresting officer literally shoved me several feet across the room, into some chairs and I almost hit my face on a table. He then picked me up again, quite quickly and threw me on top of Will Tanzman, who was laying on the floor.

The marks on my upper arms are from the officer who grabbed and threw me. The marks on my face are from the impact as my fact hit the carpet (since my hands were behind my back). I have separate, also somewhat painful, bruises on my hands from the cuffs. Obviously, this is an exceedingly uncalled for and disproportionate use of force on a citizen who is peacefully and quietly sitting in a chair and who refuses to leave until he is allowed to meet with his elected representative.

Outside, Marissa Brown, an activist from Occupy the South Side, was arrested and charged with a felony after writing in chalk on the Federal Building's massive columns.

Inside the building's lobby, police officers prowled among the people chanting in the lobby, grabbing their cell phones when they tried to take video, shoving people who tried to enter the building back into the revolving doors. Activists in the lobby were threatened with arrest for trespassing, despite the fact that we were on public property during its regular hours of operation.

Speakers at the rally told stories of their struggles to receive state and federal assistance from the already too-meager social welfare system. Activists acknowledged that without more pressure from below, Durbin will place the desperately needed social programs on the chopping block, rather than forcing the corporations and the rich to pay their fair share.

Marissa Brown's court date has been set for December 17, and activists are preparing to demonstrate against the bogus felony charge.