By Mary Wisniewski
CHICAGO (Reuters) - A coalition called "Stand Up Chicago" is planning a protest against economic inequality on Monday at meeting of the Futures Industry Association and the American Mortgage Bankers Association.
The coalition, representing a variety of community and worker groups, expects thousands of people marching from five different downtown locations Monday afternoon "to reclaim our jobs, our homes and our schools," according to its web site.
If the coalition gets the numbers it expects, this would be the biggest Chicago protest since protests focusing on economic inequality began in New York last month.
"We really want to highlight the role the financial industry has played," said Adam Kader of Arise Chicago, an interfaith workers' rights group which is part of coalition. He said the demonstration will focus on foreclosures, unemployment, and lack of municipal funding for key services.
"They're here in our backyard, so this is the time to send a message about how we're really hurting," Kader said. Other groups participating include the Chicago Teachers Union and the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. The marches are expected to converge at the Art Institute of Chicago, where the FIA plans an evening reception.
Kader said hundreds are willing to risk arrest by sitting on Chicago's main shopping street, Michigan Avenue, and blocking traffic. More demonstrations are planned for the next three days.
Mortgage Bankers Association CEO David Stevens warned the morning general session of the conference that protesters were expected to arrive at the hotel in the afternoon. He told attendees not to "engage or confront" the protesters, and advised they use pedestrian tunnels and others means to leave the building if needed.
Stevens advised conference attendees to "keep the business in the building" and let protesters speak outside.
Chicago has already seen weeks of daily protests outside the Federal Reserve Bank by "Occupy Chicago," an echo of the much larger Wall Street protests. Occupy Chicago demonstrators plan to join in the Stand Up Chicago demonstration.
About three dozen people were at the corner of LaSalle and Jackson on Monday morning, the site of the ongoing Occupy Chicago protest, beating plastic drums and carrying signs with slogans like "We are the 99 percent," a reference to the idea that most of the country's wealth is controlled by a small group. A woman passed out Dunkin' Donuts Munchkins and thanked the protesters for being there.
"Some people say we are the Tea Party for the Democratic Party," said Emilio A. Baez, a 17-year-old Barrington High School student who said he has spent several days and nights with the Occupy Chicago protesters. His voice was hoarse.
"That's Bull****. We are the working class, for a mass movement of democracy." The group's demands, he said, include turning banks into public utilities and changing the social structure so that it is no longer "a minority elite ruling over a mass majority."
(Writing by Mary Wisniewski; Reporting by Ann Saphir and Joseph Rauch; Editing by Greg McCune)