There's no one reason people join Occupy Chicago. Some have been political their whole lives; others were inspired by a cause or world event. The explanations you'll get from members often are as varied as the individuals themselves.
Columbia College student Marcus Demery was visiting Chicago, covering the protests for a photography internship. Demery, 20, now of Hyde Park, said he found himself tearing up at the sights of people chanting and marching through downtown in October.
"I was totally inspired," he said. "When I came to Chicago and I saw what was happening, I just really felt compelled to be a part of it."
Demery transferred to Columbia and moved from Ft. Wayne, Ind., mostly to join Occupy Chicago's activities. He now takes photos at protests and posts them on a Tumblr blog. Demery said the issues to which he relates most in the movement have to do with economic and social inequality in the U.S., something many Occupy members cite as a key belief.
James Cox is a 26-year-old resident of the Near West Side, someone who couldn't afford to finish college but carries thousands in student loan debt. She now works in retail and also runs the Twitter feed for Occupy Chicago, often keeping track of live feeds of the protests, as well as what supplies might be needed on the streets.
Corporate greed and corrupt politicians both contribute to her desire to protest, Cox said. She was inspired by Occupy Wall Street and the protests in the Middle East last spring; Cox came out to the Chicago site as soon as she could, which turned out to be Sept. 24, the second day.
"My hopes were that we could at least educate people and wake people up," she said. Cox wanted to tell people: "'This is going on, this is why it affects you and this is why you should care.' Because it just keeps getting worse. I just really wanted to put that spark into their mind [so they'd think,] 'Hey, maybe I should look into this.'"
Experts say movements like Occupy can attract young, politically-minded people, many of whom belong to a generation of kids raised on volunteerism and activism. Some are turning toward politics as an extension of those habits.
"If you look at [millenials'] policy positions, they're incredibly progressive," said Molly Andolina, associate professor of political science at DePaul University. She said those with a "progressive agenda," or those who are disappointed by job market and economy, as "well-educated students without jobs" could be drawn to movements like Occupy Chicago. "It might be a natural place for them to go."
ggarvey@Tribune.com | @gcgarvey