Latinas re-occupy La Casita

From the July-August 2011 issue of News & Letters:

Latinas re-occupy La Casita

Chicago–On June 22 the police, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) security and construction crews showed up at La Casita, the field house on the grounds of Whittier Dual Language Academy in Pilsen (see “Chicago Latinas demand a library,” Nov.-Dec. 2010 N&L). As the construction workers set up fencing that blocked access to La Casita from three sides, the police tried to prevent Whittier moms from entering the building. True to form, the women ignored the police and marched right past. Soon after, word was sent to the majority of Whittier Parent Committee members who were at that moment supporting the teachers at a rally at a school board meeting downtown. Suspicions are high that CPS was deliberate in their choice to show up with a demolition team on the very morning that La Casita would be least defended. But, once again, CPS underestimated the Whittier moms and their determination to defend their community center.

Things had been heating up for a couple of weeks, ever since CPS announced its intentions to build the library, not in La Casita as requested by the Parent Committee, but instead inside the school building, taking over a special needs classroom for the purpose. CPS has largely broken off communication with the Parent Committee, and refused to answer their questions about what would happen to the special needs students who were losing their classroom. The Whittier parents also question CPS’ use of the funds that were originally intended for renovation of La Casita. It appears that some $18,000 of the over $500,000 raised through the parents’ activism, was used to pay an architectural firm for a walk-through at Whittier that resulted in the recommendation to use the special needs classroom for the library. The Whittier parents point out that they arranged for the pro bono work of an architectural firm that has put forward an impressive plan for the renovation of La Casita that the parents claim will be paid for with the funds they helped raise.

Over the course of the day, the parents uncovered a document from CPS verifying that CPS had contracted on May 31 to have a company demolish La Casita and move forward with plans to create a soccer field for use of a neighboring Catholic high school. It appears that CPS has clearly violated every aspect of the agreement reached with the Parent Committee after their 43-day occupation of La Casita last fall. With the threat of demolition once again hanging over their heads, a 24-7 occupation of La Casita has recommenced. As of 3:45 AM on June 23, as I write this, a crew of supporters is well into their first overnight shift. Outside a man in a vehicle seems to be keeping close tabs on who enters and who leaves. It is unclear whether he is with the police or with CPS security, but the message seems clear–the minute La Casita is no longer defended, the demolition team will be mobilized to move in.

I appeal to all of you who have been inspired by the bold, militant struggle of the Whittier Parent Committee over the last year, to join the fight once again. Maintaining a 24-7 occupation is no easy feat. Your time, your energy, your support is desperately needed. You can find out more at http://www.saveourcenter.com. More importantly, come down to La Casita at 1900 W. 23rd St. anytime, day or night, and lend your support. La Lucha Continua!

–Jerry Mead-Lucero

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