This is a reportback on Chicago Action Medical’s coverage of actions surrounding the demolition of La Casita, the Whittier Elementary School fieldhouse, in Pilsen (23rd and Damen), the weekend of 16-18 August 2013.
LA CASITA DEMOLITION
On the evening of Friday 16 August, the instructor of an Aztec dance class arrived to teach at La Casita and was surprised to find a construction fence set up, the door had been kicked in, cops and contractors were removing the books in boxes under the cover of night, and a demolition crew was there. An emergency call went out and parents, teachers, students, and community came out to sleep there and prevent the demolition. Two medics from CAM stayed late into the night of the 16th, when 3 people were arrested. Four medics were there on Saturday the 17th.
The La Casita struggle began four years ago when CPS cut Whittier’s library budget, closing its school library. Parents occupied the field house on school grounds for well over a month and won the right to use it. Books were donated from across the country. Half of the field house was established as the new Whittier school library, under management of the parents. The other half of the field house became a community-run youth safe space, with after-school programming, ESL classes, and community-based arts programming.
Cristo del Rey is a private Jesuit high school that is adjacent to Whittier, a public elementary school. Cristo del Rey wants astroturf athletic fields where the Whittier field house was located, and the city is eager to transfer the property to private lands. Last year, the city threatened demolition of La Casita, and the parents commissioned an architect to both verify the safety of the structure, and to design a green building to replace it. The city backed down, and Alderman Danny Solis promised money for a new school library.
This weekend’s sudden and unannounced nighttime demolition caught everyone off guard, and was very emotional. After Friday night’s overwhelming community response, Ald. Danny Solis said he’d meet with the community Saturday morning. Instead the contractor did a tactical demolition, beginning with bulldozing the fence and crashing a cat bulldozer into the building at high speed, followed by 11 arrests (cuffed with zipties); then a backhoe crossed the picket-line and quickly took down the building.
Medics used a lot of white flower oil for grounding amidst the high emotions. Parents and community members were screaming and crying with grief. The medics held a few of the protesters and let them cry on our shoulders. A member of Solis’ machine antagonized the protesters but was moved back by the police.
Halfway through the rapid demolition, the community marched to Benito Juarez Community Academy where alderman Solis was holding a “Back-to-School” event. The children educated the families standing in line for free backpacks and the Deejay shut down so the protesters could speak to the crowd. We learned that Solis had changed his phone number and left the city. The community marched back to the La Casita site, joined hands in prayer, decided on demands, and let two of the children speak, then many went to the 10th district station to do jail support. Two medics went with them.
One of the families involved in La Casita escaped Pinochet’s Chile after fighting similar “reforms” there and being tortured. This community will not give up easily.
The community provided plenty of bottled water and food (make your own tacos) throughout the action. Those who stayed overnight did not sleep very well. The weather was amenable. Therefore our care was all in the realm of emotional and jail support. This was a very difficult thing to watch: emotional support is not over, and some of us could use some, too.
You can view some pictures from the day of the demolition here.