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Community breaks police blockade, 'Camp Whittier' gets a second night to demand a library for the children

Ohanian Comment: That this community has no library--public or school--is an outrage. But this is also Good News: Parents demanding a library, the true mainstay of 21st Century literacy.

Ha. Where's Oprah? Bill Cosby? Oprah's whoring for "Waiting for Superman."

Three cheers for parents!!

Barbara Kingsolver wrote an inspiring book, Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike of 1983, about ordinary women discovering their own great strength and fortitude in standing firm against a corporate giant. Now we see the same thing being played out in Chicago.

Teachers and parents across the country must support these women's desire for justice and equity for their children--a library.

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by George N. Schmidt

It could have been a scene from the blacklisted movie "Salt of the Earth," or from any of a dozen other films that depict the struggles of working people. But it was happening in real time in Chicago in 2010, and once again a group of working people, most of them women and children, broke a police blockage and thwarted attempts by Ron Huberman and the people who rule Chicago's public schools to demolish a simple wooden building just west of the century old Whittier Elementary School on Chicago's Southwest side.

The stage had been set all day, as Chicago police, acting on orders from two Chicago Public Schools officials, CPS Communications Chief Monique Bond and CPS Security Chief Michael Shields, prepared to arrest a small group of protesters, most of them mothers, who had occupied the Whittier Elementary School fieldhouse in the 1900 block of west 23rd St., to stop the demolition of the structure, which the community wants turned into a library, and the Board of Education wants to demolish and turn into a soccer field for the use of a parochial school nearby.

The word had spread at "Camp Whittier" that the Chicago police were going to force the protesters out of the Whitter Field House and arrest those who refused to leave. The police all day had been acting under orders from CPS officials, leading to some strange questions about who was in charge of Chicago's understaffed police department. Police officials had made it clear that when CPS officials asked them to clear "CPS property", they would have to do so. They had made it equally clear that the arrests would begin around 2:45 p.m. on September 17, 2010, after the overcrowded Whittier Elementary School had dismissed its students for the day so the little ones wouldn't be watching the eviction of their mothers and neighbors from a public building.

At approximately 2:40 p.m., more than 100 protesters who had been confined a block away, behind a police barrier at 23rd and Wolcott, took down the Police Line tape and surged down the block towards the Whittier playlot, on which the field house sits. Ignoring police orders to stay on the sidewalks, dozens of the newly arrived reinforcements jumped a false wrought iron fence (a symbol of the administration of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley) and begin carrying boxes of pizza and water to the protesters in the field house.

Group demanding library defies arrest threats on 3rd day of protest

Chicago Sun Times

September 18, 2010

BY Maudlyne Ihejirika

On its third day, a sit-in by parents demanding a library for a Pilsen elementary school took several twists and turns -- with police at one point threatening arrests, then abruptly leaving after more than 100 parents, students and teachers pushed past barricades to support the protesters.

"Just because we live in an economically challenged neighborhood doesn't mean we shouldn't have the right to the same resources as anyone else," community activist Gema Gaete told Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman Monique Bond in one of many heated exchanges during the six-hour standoff at Whittier Elementary, 1900 W. 23rd.

Pilsen residents protest

Parents, community activists and students had commandeered the school's adjacent field house on Wednesday in protest over CPS' plans this month to raze the building it says is structurally unsafe, and replace it with an athletic field.

The protesters say the school, which has neither a library in-house nor in the community, needs one more than it needs a field, and claim the district is reneging on an earlier commitment not to demolish the field house. They want about $354,000 currently budgeted for demolition to instead be used toward the building's repair and renovation into a library.

"It would probably cost two or three times that amount to renovate, and with the current budget constraints, we have no funding sources right now that we can count on," Bond said, pleading with the parents to vacate the building.

"We have a structural engineer's report which states that the building is unsafe and recommends that it not be occupied," Bond said.

The parents countered with their own report by a structural engineer that found the building in need primarily of a roof replacement, but salvageable with minimal investment. The group also has garnered the support of their state legislators, with state Rep. Edward Acevedo promising to help find the rehab funds.

CPS officials arrived Friday morning with a cavalry of police blocking off the street. Bond persuaded the parents to evacuate all children from the building, where protesters had spent the last two nights.

The two sides then reached an hourslong impasse over the protesters' demand for a meeting with schools CEO Ron Huberman and his commitment to save the building. As the day wore on, Bond eventually gave Huberman's commitment to meet with the group next week, and a promise not to demolish until the two sides met.

But then the protesters asked for it in writing. That, Bond said, she could not do. Then leave, the parents countered, they would not do. Pronouncing it a stalemate, Bond left.

Officials swept in to tack "No Trespassing" signs all over the building. And police moved in. The group was given a 2:45 p.m. deadline to leave or be arrested. But just as the deadline passed, school let out, and a sea of parents, students and teachers pushed past the street barricades shouting, "Si Puedo!" They pushed past police, some fighting their way into the field house. And when it seemed the crowd was out of control, police and CPS officials suddenly broke camp and left. Shouts of, "We won!" went out.

"We stuck together and won!" pronounced community member Evelin Santos. "We're going to stay here until we get our letter of commitment!"

— George N. Schmidt





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