Thousands of protesters marched through downtown Chicago Monday for a big rally focused on the economy and financial sector.
The rallies started at five different locations around the city, eventually converging at the Art Institute on Michigan Avenue, where a reception was set to take place Monday evening for members of the financial futures trading industry. The protesters carried large signs and banners, and many were taken to their locations by yellow school buses.
The protesters are agitating for better education, affordable housing and more jobs.
Organizers expected about 7,500 people to participate in the rallies Monday. By 6 p.m., the crowd had swelled, but an official number of protesters was not available.
"Share the wealth. Plain and simple. Share the wealth. Don't pocket it all. How much money do you need?" said participant Lucio Salamea.
The protest is drawing from a range of groups, from union members and the self-employed to those looking for work.
"I thought I was going to lose my home. I went through the remodification and was blessed to be able to do my own, but there are so many other people who have lost their homes, who's in the process of losing their homes," said participant Lenda Mason, who lost her home health care job a year and a half ago.
One of the gathering points is Jackson and LaSalle, where for more than two weeks a group calling itself "Occupy Chicago" has been demonstrating in front of the Board of Trade and Federal Reserve Bank.
"The diversification of the image that we're going to get out of today is going to be, really, I think, a step forward in dispelling some of the myths that have been going around about this being a fringe movement," said participant Mark Banks.
Members of the Service Employees International Union had gathered in Daley Plaza and embarked on their walk to the Art Institute at about 5 p.m. Monday. An alliance of immigrant groups and organized labor upset about unemployment was on the march from Federal Plaza. Chicago Teachers Union members had gathered at the Chicago Board of Trade as well.
Marchers were also gathering at the Hyatt on East Wacker, site of the Mortgage Bankers Association expo.
"This convention is all about trying to build homeownership for the American public, which is key in our economy," said expo attendee Tom Jones of Philadelphia.
Jones, who said he came to Chicago looking for work, says the protesters are misguided.
"I could easily join them, but instead, I'm being proactive and trying to find a new job to take care of my family and provide them a comfortable living," Jones said.
March organizers say they expect the event to be largely peaceful, but say they are willing to risk arrest by sitting in the street, particularly in the very busy Michigan Avenue shopping district.
Police said they would have officers at all five starting locations as well as on the route to the Art Institute.