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Occupation at Chicago’s Whittier Elementary School in Seventh Day

By Sarah Chambers

Alderman Solis confronted by Whittier parents and children.

Chicago, IL – The energy was high at Whittier Elementary’s la casita, as the parents and their children prepared for another vigilant night to protect their field house from demolition, Sept. 20. Sign-in sheets covered the front tables with ‘on-guard’ schedules and long lists of names and contact information from educators, community members, members of the Chicago Teachers’ Union and other supporters. Sept. 20, began the seventh day of the occupation of the field house at this school in Pilsen, a Chicano/Mexicano neighborhood on Chicago’s west side.

The parents’ demands are straightforward: They want a library for their school and they do not want their field house torn down to become a soccer field for a neighboring private school. Currently, Whittier Elementary School has no library for the students nor is there a nearby community library. Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has deemed this field house “not structurally sound.” Araceli Gonzalez, one of the parents leading the protest, claims that CPS’s statements are inaccurate. “We showed CPS a letter from a structural engineer saying that we only need a new roof, which would cost less to fix than to demolish the whole field house.” CPS has made no comment on this letter.

Even though at least two people are always on guard in front of la casita, the parents and their children sleep with one eye open after being encircled and barricaded by the CPS security on Sept. 16. CPS security surrounded the Whittier playground and field house that day. They would not let anyone enter or leave, even though some of the parents’ children were on the outside of the fence. Araceli describes this horrific incident, “I don’t even think criminals get treated like we were treated. They tried to cut the electricity. They pushed girls, kids, including my daughter. They yelled that they would call immigration and get us arrested.” After approximately one hour, shouts of “Si, se puede!” surged through the air as the CPS security removed the barricades.

On Sept. 20, ward Alderman Danny Solis finally showed up to hear the angry parents of his district. While Solis promised to give Whittier more by using tax increment funds, only 5% of those TIF funds have been made available to Whittier so far. [TIF – Tax Increment Financing – is a trick played by politicians to take tax money from the community and give it to developers.]

Mothers and community members demanded that Alderman Solis pledge his support that the money for the demolition of the field house go towards rebuilding it into a library. When Solis pled that he could do nothing, protesters chanted and made him announce on television that he would show up the following morning to deliver a signed note saying the house wouldn’t be demolished and that he would support “negotiations” for a library.

“We are excited about the way things went today, but we’re not going to back down,” said Carolina, one of the mothers occupying Whittier. “I’ve planted myself here – I’m not leaving – my roots are here.”

The people of Pilsen have fought tirelessly for the right for a say in their community. This is the latest in a series of fights against privatization of the school system, gentrification of their neighborhood and for community autonomy.

Community members and others have supported the occupation, bringing in food, water and supplies to rebuild la casita. The brave parents say they will not end the occupation of the field house until they get a written statement from Chicago Public Schools promising they will not demolish it.

#ChicagoIL #WhittierElementary #ChicagoPublicSchools