Occupy Chicago has cause for celebration. The University of Chicago announced earlier today that a planned lecture featuring Condoleezza Rice and Henry Paulson had been called off due to an “unforeseen scheduling conflict.” Originally set for this evening, the event attracted the ire of the university’s students and members of the ongoing Occupy Chicago movement. Occupy Chicago had planned to “Un-Welcome” Rice and Paulson, saying “Many… Occupy Chicago members are students at the University of Chicago and plan on attending this event.” At least one tweet, by the Occupy Chicago Outreach Committee, specificed this would involve a “rally & mic check.”The mic check refers to the now commonplace means of communication at Occupy events across the nation, also known as the human microphone or people’s mic, in which listeners repeat the speaker’s words so as to amplify his or her message (ironically, Occupy Chicago uses the people’s mic in General Assemblies less often than some Occupy locations).The technique has quickly turned into a tactic for activists seeking to protest events, exemplified earlier this month when 60 activists from Stand Up! Chicago, some of them also Occupy Chicago members, disrupted a speaking event featuring Gov. Scott Walker (R‑Wis.). It is likely that tonight’s protest would have followed a similar two-part structure, with University of Chicago students eligible to attend the event staging a protest inside while a larger Occupy Chicago presence rallied outside.A similar “mic check” protest did take place today in D.C. at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event on the ‘Future of the Health Care Industry,’ at which Blue Cross Blue Shield Association President & CEO Scott Serota was speaking. C‑SPAN has video of the protest, during which Serota was described by activists as “an example of the 1% in the healthcare industry influence who testified in Congress and influenced the [Affordable Care Act] health bill to create more profit for health insurers at the expense of human suffering and preventable death.”
Tonight’s planned lecture in Chicago was to feature two speakers who are anathema to the Occupy movement. Condoleezza Rice—former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State (positions held under George W. Bush)—symbolizes the policies of the Bush administration. Rice was an outspoken proponent of both the invasion of Iraq and the president’s hawkish foreign policy. Rising to Secretary of State in 2005, Rice echoed Bush’s interventionist rhetoric, arguing that extremism in the Islamic world was a result of “oppression and despair” and that “transformation” supervised by Western powers was the most effective means of squashing terrorism.Henry Paulson, the event’s co-speaker, is a long-time insider of the financial world, having once been the head of financial giant Goldman Sachs. He would later go on to serve as Treasury Secretary in the Bush Administration. During his time as Secretary, Paulson oversaw the first infusion of tax payer dollars into the faltering investment sector following the economic meltdown. He attracted criticism for being far to generous dispensing public funds to companies responsible for the crisis.In the eyes of protestors, both individuals reflect a system of power out of touch with the American public. Peter Fugiel, a graduate student in sociology and an activist at Occupy Chicago, remarks that: Hank and Condi are corporate tools who never ran for public election. As appointed representatives of big business, Paulson and Rice crafted policies that most people oppose. Now they have the nerve to tell us that they drove millions of Iraqis into refugee camps, and millions of Americans into foreclosure for our own good? We let them know their anti-democratic propaganda isn’t welcome here, and they heard us loud and clear.The successful derailing of the lecture parallels last month’s situation in Philadelphia, in which Eric Cantor—who was to give a speech on the GOP’s approach to income inequality—cancelled at the last minute after learning that seats in the audience were open to the public. Speculation held that Occupy Philadelphia was planning to disrupt the event. Occupy Chicago protestors plan to celebrate the cancellation by gathering at 6pm outside the International House at 1414 East 59th Street, where the event was scheduled to occur. Following the rally, protestors will hold their first General Assembly on the South Side.
Patrick Glennon is a writer and musician living in Chicago. He received his B.A. in History from Skidmore College and currently works as Communications Manager for the Michael Forti for Cook County Court campaign and as the web intern at In These Times.