Oak Park protest vets still feeling purpose
Oak Park residents Tom Broderick (foreground) and Bill Barclay (white shirt) multi-task Friday at the Anti-G-8 rally in Daley Plaza, holding up a banner while also soliciting petition signatures supporting a financial transaction tax. .
Updated: July 1, 2012 12:21PM
The NATO protests this week were nothing new for a small group of civil rights advocates from Oak Park.
Most had witnessed history in the making during the 1963 March on Washington and the 1968 Democratic Convention demonstrations.
On Friday, armed with picket signs and banners, the members of the Oak Park Coalition in Truth & Justice headed back into the fray.
Mixing their voices with thousands of others — again — they hoped their messages of peace and equality would be heard.
“Nuts to this one percent stuff,” said Truth & Justice leader Tom Broderick about the 1 percent of Americans who hold 40 percent of the country’s wealth.
“Nuts to the G-8 ruling the world.”
This week’s protests recalled Broderick’s first rally nearly 50 years ago, when his mother took him to the March on Washington in 1963.
Living in the nation’s capitol, in an age before social media, their home was a destination for many of that era’s protesters.
“If there was a protest march, there were people sleeping on our floor,” said Broderick. He continued that tradition last week, hosting five Occupy protesters from Springfield, Mo.
Then, it was Vietnam, today it’s Afghanistan.
But one issue remains the same: the rich vs. the poor.
“The financial inequality has grown greatly the past 20 years,” said Broderick. “That’s indicative of a real sense of greed.”
On Friday, as Broderick walked to Daley Plaza, he saw a transformed city from his earlier days of marches.
The sea of blue and brown uniforms was there. Every 20 feet was a cop or two or three. They weren’t lined up in riot gear, but were milling quietly through the crowd.
Broderick said the police role as an enforcer of the status quo hasn’t changed, though police tactics have improved.
“It varies from situation to situation,” he said. “I believe cops are better trained (and disciplined) but there’s also a militant appearance that’s certainly unappealing.”
“It only takes one person from whichever side to provoke a bad situation.”
Still, Broderick was disappointed with the tactics of a minority of the demonstrators over the weekend.
“The violence used by some of the demonstrators gained nothing for the movement,” he said. “We don’t win support. We lose support.”
Friday’s rally had a modern-day reunion feel to it: peaceful and playful. Broderick hugged and clasped hands with old friends he hadn’t seen in a while.
But there was also business to attend to.
Broderick and Bill Barclay did double duty at the plaza, holding up a Democratic Socialists of America banner and soliciting petition signatures.
They hope to persuade the federal government to establish a national financial transaction tax on the trading of stocks and other financial instruments.
The Truth & Justice group will work through the summer to build support for the tax so they can present it to state officials later this year. A national approach would be far more effective, they said.
Barclay, an economist and retired financial trader who lives in Oak Park, welcomed the nurses union’s endorsement of the “Robin Hood tax” he called critical to the nation’s economic recovery.
“This gives it much more visibility than it’s had before,” he said.
“If our campaign in Illinois helps kick start their campaign, that’s great,” said Barclay.
Smell the coffee
Nearby, Beverly Walters, holding up the Oak Park Coalition in Truth & Justice banner, said middle class America needs to wake up to what’s happening.
“We can’t just pretend that (Wall Street’s wealthy) are going to reform themselves on their own,” she said.
She said the financial transaction tax would bring equality to taxes.
“Why should I pay a tax on my little cup of coffee when they don’t pay a tax on their financial transactions?” she said holding up her cup of coffee.
Roger Beltrami, another Oak Parker, was more focused on Sunday’s march against NATO, at which he would serve as a “peace guide.”
Beltrami was responsible for keeping people from crossing the rope line — for three hours, in the unrelenting sun.
“It wasn’t very peaceful, I’ll tell you that,” he said. ”It was kind of like being a peace guide at Pomplona (Spain and the running of the bulls).”
Beltrami said “the police were polite,” with a couple of exceptions. The demonstrators were worse, however.
“I wasn’t very thrilled when the (anarchist) Black Bloc guys started doing it.”
Still, Beltrami found a kindred spirit in the Occupy movement.
“We’ve always had a cause,” Beltrami said. “But we’ve had to go energize people and have panel discussions and get the people on our side.”
“Occupy, they cut out the middleman. Because everybody was already pissed off at the one percent.”
Still, the Oak Park coalition worries their message is not being heard.
“I’d like to see more people here,” said Walters. “We need lots of people to make the point for Congress to understand that it has to do its job. Wall Street owns Congress.”
Asked if after 50 years he feels a circle closing, Broderick said, “It’s not a circle as much as a journey. Gains ... have been made.”
But not enough, said Jerry Delaney, who had walked over to Daley Plaza on her lunch hour “to see my friends.”
Delaney, who was tear gassed in Grant Park during the 1968 Democratic Convention demonstrations, is now co-chair of the Democratic Party of Oak Park. She said she’s sad at the current state of affairs.
“After all these years, we’ve accomplished so little. There’s so much more to work for.”
Delaney said the profound sense of hope in the wake of Barack Obama’s 2008 election to the presidency was “a bit naive.” But she still hopes. And takes action.
“I think I trust in what Martin Luther King said,” Delaney said, referring to a quote King borrowed from 19th century Unitarian minister Theodore Parker.
“That the arc of the world (is long and) bends toward justice,” she said.
“But it doesn’t bend without each of us pushing it,” Delaney said.