In the neighborhood of Pilson, Chicago, there’s a small elementary school called Whittier Elementary School. The residents and children are mostly Mexican immigrants, and the chronically under-funded school needed repairs, a functional cafeteria, and a library. In the corner of the soccer field was an old run-down field house affectionately called “La Casita”, where parents gathered to organize to secure funding for the school – and also to come take classes in anything from sewing or GED studies.
Chicago Public Schools sent word that they wanted to tear down La Casita to make room for a new soccer field that would be shared with a nearby private school. Parents were furious . . . especially when they learned that Chicago Public Schools (CPS) had not conducted an assessment before deciding to demolish the building. The parents hired an independent assessor who verified that the building was fundamentally sound.
Negotiations with CPS led nowhere. The building remained slated for demolition. On September 16th, 2010, eleven parents entered La Casita and began an occupation to halt the demolition. They had two demands: they wanted CPS to rescind the order to destroy the field house and they demanded a library for Whittier Elementary School.
Almost immediately, news of the occupation spread. By the afternoon, supporters and the Chicago Police Department found themselves in a tense standoff. Global Nonviolent Action Database writes: “Chicago Police Department announced that they would call immigration authorities to arrest the parents if the group did not disperse. Given the fragile immigration status of many of the activists, the threat of deportation was enough to remove about half of the group, but many parents stayed behind. As the standoff continued, the protesters gathered outside began crossing over to join the parents in La Casita to show their support. Presently the number of activists supporting the La Casita occupation outweighed the number of police officers. With little other choice, the Chicago PD left the site.”
The occupation continued for forty-three days. On a chilly October day, nearly three weeks into the occupation, CPS turned off the heat in the building to try to force the parents to leave. Backlash from the public made them turn it back on. A week later, a demolition crew showed up with bulldozers and dump trucks. After a tense and heated confrontation, the demolition crew retreated. As CPS’ refusal to meet the demands of the parents continued, the community decided to begin to build a library themselves. They collected donations from the community and from Chicago Underground Library (CUL). Soon, the students were checking out books from La Casita as the parents continued to occupy night and day. On October 27th, 2010, Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Huberman finally agreed – in writing – to meet the demands of the parents. La Casita would not be demolished, but instead leased to the Whittier parents for $1 a year. In addition, the CPS would provide Whittier with funding for a school library.
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Photo Credit: Boy at Library, Public Domain Image, CCO
This article is from Rivera Sun’s book of nonviolent histories that have made our world. Click here for more information.
Rivera Sun is a change-maker, a cultural creative, a protest novelist, and an advocate for nonviolence and social justice. She’s a love-based revolutionary and the author of The Dandelion Insurrection, The Way Between and ten other fiction, non-fiction and poetry books. Her essays and writings are syndicated by Peace Voice, and have appeared in over a hundred journals nationwide. Rivera Sun speaks and facilitates workshops in strategy for nonviolent change across the country and around the world. She connects the dots between the issues, shares solutionary ideas, and inspires people to step up to the challenge of being a part of the story of change in our times. www.riverasun.com