Chicago community group accused of paying individuals to participate in school protest

In tactics similar to ones used by a former ACORN group in New York City during the Occupy Wall Street movement, a Chicago-based not-for-profit paid people to attend protests that backed the closing of public schools.

Two of the “rent-a-protestors” reportedly blew the whistle on the Hope Organization, claiming that they were offered money to attend the rallies back on Jan. 6 and that they were provided with pre-made signs and prepared scripts.

Both men told the Chicago Sun-Times that they didn’t realize the intent of the rally, supporting the closure of certain schools, until the last minute. Thaddeus Scott, 35, says he was promised $50 dollars to speak at the rally, which he was told was “for schools.” He says he was stiffed $25 after the head of the Hope organization, the Rev. Roosevelt Watkins III, complained that Scott had publicly revealed that he was compensated for speaking at the hearing.

“I don’t want the $25 he [Watkins] owes me. He can keep his dirty money,” Scott told the Sun-Times. “They thought for a few dollars they could get us to say whatever they want. ... We were preyed upon.”

Watkins tells the Sun-Times that protesters were paid to attend “training” sessions on “community organizing.”

“What we do—so you can hear it from the horse’s mouth—we provide training because we engage community activists to participate in things such as health care, affordable housing, education, safety. Those things. So we do training on community organizing,” he said.

Watkins, who is also a pastor at Bethlehem Star Missionary Baptist Church, acknowledged to the newspaper that he organized busloads of people to attend the hearings which concerned the closings of Crane High School and Guggenheim and Reed Elementary schools.

Scott, and a second, unidentified man who is a Guggenheim Elementary alum, told the Sun-Times that they originally went to the offices of the HOPE Organization for assistance with energy bills, when they were offered money to attend a rally. Scott further stated that no one from HOPE would say “what the rally was about until they got there.”

The Guggenheim alum told the Sun-Times that he did not receive any training before boarding the bus and that he was told the rally would be about “longer school hours,” and he was given a sign saying, "I cannot support failing schools."

“That’s how I knew I was on the wrong side,” he said. “I was on the ‘close’ side. I wanted to be on the ‘open’ side,” he told the Sun-Times. “If I knew it was about closing Guggenheim, I would have never gone.”

The alleged tactics used by the HOPE Organization mirror tactics employed by the community group New York Communities for Change during the Occupy protests in New York City this past fall. The group, which was formed from the remnants of the scandal-scarred ACORN, was allegedly paying people to participate in marches and protest across the city.