Brighton Park Neighborhood Council – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop http://www.newstips.org Chicago Community Stories Mon, 14 Jul 2014 17:31:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.12 NFL to fund Kelly Park renovation http://www.newstips.org/2013/09/nfl-to-fund-kelly-park-renovation/ Mon, 23 Sep 2013 20:16:49 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7713 The NFL and LISC are donating $200,000 to construction of a new artificial turf soccer and football field at Kelly Park, a major win in a two-year campaign to win renovation of the Southwest Side park.

Mark Bachleda and Ramon Salazar of Brighton Park Neighborhood Council made the announcement at the first annual Brighton Park Fest held Saturday at Kelly Park by BPNC to raise funds for the renovation.

Hundreds of residents turned out for games and festivities, with booths featuring local restaurants.

Pat Levar, chief operating officer of the Chicago Park District, announced the district would contribute $500,000 in capital funds for the field.  Previously State Senator Martin Sandoval had won a $210,000 state appropriation for the project.

Sara Reschly of BPNC, chair of the Kelly Park Advisory Council, said CPS had indicated it would kick in the balance of the $1.2 million needed for the field.

Brian Richter, assistant principal of Kelly High, exulted that Kelly’s boys’ soccer team, now in the running for its second citywide championship in a row, would have a real soccer field across the street from the school for practice and games.

In 20 years as a teacher and administrator at Kelly, he said, he’d “watched the park continue to deteriorate….We’re so pleased our children are finally going to get the park they deserve.”

As an educator, he said, he had to point out to his students the “lesson in good government and good community organizing: when people work together, good things happen.

Bacheda recounted community efforts to raise funds and press elected officials for support — volunteers knocking on residents’ doors, a huge town hall meeting last year, a 5K walk, a flea market and sidewalk sale.

“Two years ago, this seemed like an impossible dream,” remarked Anita Caballero, president of BPNC’s board.

“It’s been 40 years since there was significant investment in the park,” commented Reschly.  With population shifts, baseball diamonds were no longer heavily used, and bleachers were broken and never repaired, she said.  Drainage problems caused large pools of standing water throughout the park for days after heavy rains.  “The park has not been kept up,” she said.

Since the campaign was launched, existing drains have been cleaned out and a new sidewalk installed, but Reschly said residents will continue to push for a full renovation of the park, including a new drainage system, new playground equipment, and other features.

The neglected park has been a magnet for gang activity, Reschly said.  A renovated park will attract families and provide alternative activities for young people, she said.

A full restoration would cost an estimated $3.4 million, she said.

“These grants and commitments [announced Saturday] are important, but they only take us some of the way,” said Caballero.  “We need all of our elected officials to step up and secure the rest of the money we need for the project.”

 

Related:

Facing anti-violence cuts, Brighton Park proposes a community plan (7-26-12)

Brighton Park: vigil for gun victims – and call to action (1-21-13)

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Brighton Park: vigil for gun victims – and call to action http://www.newstips.org/2013/01/brighton-park-vigil-for-gun-victims-and-call-for-action/ Mon, 21 Jan 2013 22:05:46 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6942 Brighton Park residents will gather at Kelly Park on Tuesday for a candlelight vigil memoralizing 26 deaths in Newtown, Connecticut and 27 people shot in Brighton Park last year – and call for gun control legislation and restoration of funding for youth services there.

Joined by local elected officials, they’ll gather at Kelly Park, 2725 W. 41st, at 3 p.m., Tuesday; in case of inclement weather they’ll hold a brief press conference there and gather inside Kelly High School across the street.

Last year funding for two state anti-violence programs was cut in half; in Brighton Park that meant the loss of five full-time school-based counselors serving Kelly High and seven elementary schools, said Sara Reschly of Brighton Park Neighborhood Council.

Along with individual counseling, the counselors ran anger management and life skills workshops, and when BPNC surveyed teachers on the results, the vast majority reported a significiant decrease in classroom behavior issues and increased class participation and homework completion, Reschly said.

At a community rally last summer, several young people testified about how youth programming had helped them turn their lives around.

State funding was maintained for parent engagement and youth employment programs, but they operate only in the summer, leaving no state resource for anti-violence work in the neighborhood through the school year, she said.  “With 27 people shot last year, that’s a problem,” she said.

“The focus right now is on gun legislation and that’s important, but we need youth services too,” Reschly said.  “Seriously addressing violence has to be a community effort and it has to involve positive opportunities for young people.”

Community members continue to press the park district for renovation of Kelly Park, Reschly said.  “We were very disappointed that Kelly Park didn’t get any of the NATO legacy funding” handed out by Mayor Emanuel in recent months, she said.

Brighton Park is the most “park-poor” area in the city, she said.  “Given the fact that we don’t have a lot of green space, it’s even more important to maintain existing facilities, so youth and familes can benefit from them.”

 

Related: Facing anti-violence cuts, Brighton Park proposes community plan

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Facing anti-violence cuts, Brighton Park proposes a community plan http://www.newstips.org/2012/07/facing-anti-violence-cuts-brighton-park-proposes-community-plan/ Thu, 26 Jul 2012 23:02:36 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6484 Kelly High School’s auditorium was packed Wednesday night by residents of Brighton Park – the neighborhood where a 13-year-old boy was shot on his front porch while shielding a friend earlier this month – supporting a community anti-violence plan in the face of drastic cuts to programs they say have been working.

“Violence is up in Brighton Park, but it’s not up as much as elsewhere,” said Patrick Brosnan of Brighton Park Neighborhood Council.  In nearby Chicago Lawn, killings are up 150 percent, the Chicago Tribune reports.

“The gang issue has gotten more complicated this year,” Brosnan said.  “There are a lot of fights, a lot of shootings.”  This spring there was an average of a shooting each week, according to The Gate.  But BPNC’s youth programs have a lot of success stories, Brosnan said.

State Representative Dan Burke and other officials pledged to help BPNC secure funding from the state for youth leadership and mentoring programs, parent patrols, school-based counseling, and gang intervention programs.

Budget cut in half

Most of those programs are currently funded through two state programs.  The Neighborhood Recovery Initiative provides jobs for 80 young people as peer mentors and 50 parents mentors in each of 20 Chicago communities, and the Safety Net Works program supports existing youth services, including school-based counseling and crisis intervention, to collaborate on broad anti-violence efforts.

But the $30 million funding for the two programs was eliminated in the new state budget.  It was replaced by a $15 million allocation to the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Agency for community-based violence prevention efforts.

Organizations participating in the two programs are pressing to keep existing programs operating, said Chris Patterson, NRI coordinator at Organization of the Northeast in Uptown.  “How do you cover 20 communities with half the funding?” he said.

BPNC proposed a plan which would step up programs, including new money to bring CeaseFire to the community.

A better path

The group’s youth programming is “very effective,” said Esteban Salazar, who will be a senior at Kelly this fall.  Before getting involved, “I was on a bad path,” he said.  “I was hanging around with gangs, hanging around with crews, involved with drugs and alcohol, doing violence.”

He’s left all those things behind, and he now plans to study auto mechanics for a year after graduating high school, then go to college for mechanical engineering.

“They teach us to be a better person, and they do it by having fun,” he said of the program.  They’ve volunteered at food pantries and other community sites, visited colleges, met with elected officials.  Salazar was surprised to find himself in a meeting with Vice President Joe Biden recently, he said.

The group also organizes an annual violence prevention youth summit.

Back in school

Others have benefited just as much, Salazar said.  “There are kids who are in school who wouldn’t be without the program,” he said.

Wednesday night, Jacqueline Cruz testified about the impact of the youth mentoring program.  “I was a troubled youth,” she said.  “I would cut school and only want to be in the streets.  But I’ve been attending school every day and my grades are A’s and B’s.  And I even have a job.”

She added:  “We don’t want to see a program that has benefited many of us in a positive way to be taken away from us.”

Mark Bachleda, part of the Parent Leadership Action Network, spoke of going door-to-door to reach out to parents struggling to raise adolescents, and called on elected officials who were present to “help us make a difference.”

Hundreds of at-risk students at Kelly High and seven elementary schools have been helped through school-based counseling, said Janeth Herrera.

Annual gaps

Constant shifts and annual gaps in program funding create huge difficulties, Brosnan said.  “Last year we had to lay off the whole counseling staff [when funding ran out] at the end of June,” he said.  “We found out at the end of August that funding was restored and we had to hire a whole batch of new people.”

Such gaps can have serious effects, said Patterson, a former CeaseFire coordinator.  “We created a ceasefire between two groups of guys who were doing most of the killings” in Uptown several years ago, he said.  “Now since CeaseFire is no longer on the street, they’ve started shooting each other again.”

ICJIA is aware of the work being done by community groups and sensitive to their concerns, said spokesperson Cristin Evans.  “We’re still working with the governor’s office to determine the most effective use of funds, given the reduction in the funding level,” she said.

An unsafe park

The biggest demonstration of support Wednesday – the audience erupted in chants — was for BPNC’s campaign to restore Kelly Park, across the street from the high school.  “Where are our representatives?” asked Silvia Torres, contrasting the $3 million project to the $30 million TIF subsidy for a plaza at a downtown riverfront development.

(It may be worth noting that the city funding for a wealthy Loop developer is twice the amount of state funding now budgeted for scores of community organizations fighting to keep young people alive.)

Kelly Park’s playing field is studded with rocks and concrete and a portion of it with poor drainage “becomes a swamp in the spring,” said Sara Reschly, BPNC’s Safety Net Works coordinator.  And it’s laid out in a baseball diamond, while the high school needs it for football and soccer.

Kellly High has a championship soccer team, but has had to travel a mile away to McKinley Park to play.  But that’s “not safe for all the players,” because it crosses gang boundaries, she said.

Last year one team member was jumped and beaten while walking with his family in the parking lot before a game, she said, and at another game, a “masked person” threatened to kill the team members and the coach if they came back to the park.

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Brighton Park parents: new school should serve neighborhood http://www.newstips.org/2012/04/brighton-park-parents-new-school-should-serve-neighborhood/ Sun, 29 Apr 2012 20:09:11 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6082 Brighton Park parents are asking that a new school now under construction be open to neighborhood students in order to relieve overcrowding in area schools – and they’re complaining of “deception” by local charter school operator UNO, which wants the building.

Parents will march from Shields Elementary School, 4250 S. Rockwell, at 9 a.m. on Monday, April 30, and hold a press conference at the site of the new school, 48th and Rockwell, at 9:30.

With 1,849 students, Shields is one of the most overcrowded schools in CPS, according to parent leaders with Brighton Park Neighborhood Council.

Many parents say UNO organizers collecting signatures on a petition to give the new school to UNO misled them about its purpose, with the petition’s text often not available or available only in English, said Patrick Brosnan of BPNC.  Parents will discuss this at the press conference, he said.

Parents leaders with BPNC have pushed for over five years for a new school in the neighborhood to relieve overcrowding.  A charter school that takes students citywide will not help, they say.

Shields is one of four schools where BPNC has partnered to create Full-Service Community Schools, offering after-school tutoring, art and drama, along with GED and ESL for parents and leadership development for students and parents.  The program includes counseling, mental health services, and support for at-risk students.

The approach has led to steadily improving achievement levels, Brosnan said.  With 97 percent low-income and 29 percent English-learning students, Shields outperforms CPS averages on reading, math, and science.

CPS officials and several elected officials are scheduled to attend a public meeting on the new school on Thursday, May 3, at Shields.

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Coalition questions G8 costs, calls for community investment http://www.newstips.org/2012/03/coalition-questions-g8-costs-calls-for-community-investment/ Thu, 01 Mar 2012 19:36:23 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=5962 Costs for the G8/NATO summit in May could be much higher than current projections from the city, according to a labor-community coalition which is calling for a Chicago G8/NATO Community Fund.

“We think that $65 million is very, very, very low, and based on the experience of other host cities, the actual cost is going to be much higher,” said Elizabeth Parisian, a researcher with Stand Up Chicago.

She said the 2010 G8 summit in Huntsville, Ontario, ended up costing over $1 billion, the bulk of which went to security costs. Costs of housing, transportation and entertainment totaled about $180 million, she said.

Like the upcoming summit, the 2010 G8 was a joint summit (that year it was with the G20), and as expected for the upcoming summit, there were big protests.

Stand Up Chicago is working on developing a more detailed independent cost estimate, Parisian said, but getting information is difficult.

“There’s been no transparency from the city,” she said, adding that “we need to know how much it’s going cost and who’s contributing.”

Last week the Chicago Reader reported that a $55 million federal grant described by officials last year as funding planning for summit security training is actually a routine grant that supports the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications. Security cost estimates will not be released before the summit, OECM told the Reader.

Funding for community needs

In a letter to Mayor Emanuel last week, community, labor, and civil rights groups asked him to call on corporations contributing to the summit host committee to provide matching donations to a community fund “which can be used to keep libraries and mental health clinics open, as well as to provide direct investment in Chicago’s many struggling neighborhoods.”

Six mental health clinics are slated for closing in April for a cost savings of $2 million. Library hours were recently cut in order to save $1 million.

“At a time when our city is experiencing a serious budget deficit and facing record unemployment, record foreclosures, record poverty, and drastic cuts to services, it is negligent to direct such a large sum of money to a weekend-long event that benefits the 1 percent without also ensuring that a similar sum is invested in Chicago’s 99 percent — our communities,” according to the letter.

It calls on Emanuel to seek federal funds equivalent to federal summit spending to support community programs here.

A release from Stand Up Chicago includes statements from leaders of several groups that signed on to the letter:

Rev. Calvin S. Morris, Community Renewal Society: “The G8 Summit presents an opportunity for our mayor and business leaders to demonstrate that Chicago is a world-class city that, foremost, invests in its social infrastructures and the upward mobility of its residents, especially poor people.”

Amisha Patel, Grassroots Collaborative: “At the drop of a hat, Mayor Emanuel can raise $60 million for the global elite, and yet our neighborhoods suffer from unsafe vacant buildings, gun violence, and skyrocketing unemployment. Instead of throwing a party for the 1 percent, the mayor and corporate Chicago should be creating jobs for the 99 percent — jobs to clean up abandoned housing, jobs to keep school children safe, and summer jobs for youth.”

Beatriz Merlos, parent organizer, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council: “This money could go to renovating public spaces like Kelly Park, which has been in disrepair for years, and could fund more youth programs to keep our kids off the streets and out of gangs. And we could put more police in neighborhoods where shootings are reaching staggering levels.”

Rev. C.J. Hawking of Arise Chicago, the faith-based labor rights group: “The 99 percent have been struggling through harsh budget cuts while the city is doling out our tax dollars in corporate welfare to the CME and other World Business Chicago members. And now we’re going to invest millions in events for and by the 1 percent? We’re calling upon the city and World Business Chicago members to make at least an equal investment in the working families of the city.”

Margaret Sullivan, Southside Together Organizing for Power, a client at Beverly-Morgan Park Mental Health Clinic, which is slated for closing, said she broke down in tears thinking about “the comparison between the $2 million we need to save our clinics and the millions of dollars that will go to the insane and insatiable greed surrounding the NATO/G8 summits.”

Stand Up Chicago and other groups are planning protests that will raise these issues during the summit, a spokesperson said.

The city’s press office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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School closings, the law, and alternatives http://www.newstips.org/2011/11/school-closings-the-law-and-alternatives/ Tue, 29 Nov 2011 21:08:50 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4981 School closings to be announced by CPS on Thursday—expected to be unprecedented in scope — are the first under a new state school facilities planning law, intended to bring transparency and accountability to decisions over school buildings.

But does the school district’s new guidelines for school actions, which must be finalized by November 30, abide by the spirit of the law?  Many of its proponents – and some of its legislative sponsors – say no.

Meanwhile community groups continue to call on CPS to work with communities to improve struggling schools, rather than imposing top-down strategies that have no record of success.

“I don’t see them as being really ready to adhere to SB 630,” said State Representative Esther Golar, a member of the legislative task force which developed the bill.   The legislation “was intended to require CPS to work as partner with parents, teachers, and the community.”

She adds: “That’s something they haven’t been doing….And they’re still saying we’re going to run the schools the way we want to, and you don’t have any say-so.”

“It’s the same failed policies,” said Dwayne Truss, co-chair of the Austin Community Action Council, established by CPS.  “They just want to open up buildings for more charter schools.”

‘Too vague’

The guidelines for actions are so broad that they leave nearly a quarter of CPS schools open to action, circumventing SB 630’s attempt to encourage transparency in school closing decisions and limit the administration’s ability to act in an arbitrary manner, supporters of the law say.

The guidelines are “too vague,” said Golar.

By using school performance and probationary status as the basic standard for school actions, CPS relies on statistically questionable measurements – and risks exposing its own failure to meet obligations to schools on probation, said Don Moore of Designs for Change.

The number of schools on probation, now amounting to 42 percent of CPS schools, mainly reflects “erratic changes in the CPS probation policy from year to year,” said Moore.  “A large number of Chicago’s probation schools are scoring very well and carrying out good practices,” he said.

Probation standards are currently set to include nearly all schools with significant low-income enrollment, he said.  Schools making steady progress can end up on probation if they slip a couple of points one year.  Due to complex (and controversial) “trend” score calculations, some schools on probation actually have higher scores than schools that aren’t.

Nor does the performance policy account for many challenges faced by neighborhood schools.  Truss points to two Austin schools:  Louis Armstrong Elementary and Plato contract school, located nearby.  Armstrong has 27 percent of its students getting special education, versus 11.4 percent at Plato; the mobility rates are 24.6 percent versus 8.5.  “And Armstrong takes in third graders that Plato doesn’t want,” he said — just in time for tests.

Charter schools, most of which have scores comparable to neighborhood schools, are exempt from the district’s performance policy.

Schools on probation neglected

Moore underscores a common complaint by critics of the guidelines:  “CPS has consistently failed to carry out its own obligations under the probation policy.”

“The schools on probation, what help have they received from CPS?” asked State Reprentative Cynthia Soto, who co-chairs the facilities task force, talking with the Tribune.

At a recent hearing on the school action guidelines held by CPS on the West Side, parents at Marconi Elementary argued CPS has never addressed the problems which led to probation for the school, Catalyst reported.

“The school’s air conditioning is broken, they don’t have a gym, there’s no computer lab, no science lab, ceilings are falling in – there are a lot of issues,” said West Side activist Carol Johnson, who works with Truss in the Progressive Action Coalition for Education.  “CPS officials did a walk-through, they have a list of everything that parents said they needed, but they haven’t done anything.”

“If you’re going to turn around a school and then put in resources, that doesn’t seem right,” she said.  “If you’re going to give resources, do it before you close the school.”

CPS has failed to follow the mandates of state law governing probation – a possible ground for opposing school closings based on probationary status, said Moore.

State law requires that schools placed on probation – under which control over school improvement plans, budgets, and principal hiring is taken from local school councils and given to the central administration – must get a plan from the school district outlining specific steps to be taken to correct identified shortcomings, with specific expenditures in the school budget targeting educational and operational deficiencies.

Supporters of schools facing closing could file freedom of information requests for documentation that these steps have been taken, Moore suggests.  CPS failure to comply would constitute grounds for independent hearing officers to determine that the district hasn’t met legal requirements to close the school.

What about charter performance?

The school action guidelines include a range of factors, and Golar said the legislative task force has written CPS raising a number of questions and concerns.

Some of these include: how do they measure student safety?  Are there any specific criteria for “co-locating” schools, or is that decision entirely up to the whim of CPS?  Will school actions result in smaller class sizes?  Why was the previous policy of exempting schools with new principals dropped?

And a big one for her:  why are charters and turnarounds not subject to the same performance requirements?

Golar has been pushing for accountability for charters since she was elected in 2006.  “Charter schools have the same issues traditional schools have, yet they don’t have the same performance measures,” she said.  “They have all these computer labs, longer school days, better books, all the things parents are asking for, and with all that, they’re still failing.”

It’s quite possible for students from closing schools to end up at charters that are performing no better, CTU has argued.

A neighborhood agenda

There’s an alternative.  Instead of disinvesting from and closing neighborhood schools, community organizations recently proposed an agenda to invest in and improve them.

It’s a comprehensive program – the proposal for college preparation and readiness begins with pre-school for all and full-day kindergarten in every school.  It’s based on the successes of community organizations that have worked in schools for years.

The agenda proposes that all neighborhood schools follow the community school model.  It includes programs like parent mentors in the classroom, smaller class sizes, arts education and recess, restorative justice and mental health services, local teacher development and improved bilingual education.  It stresses partnerships with community groups and community governance, including local school councils with decision-making power at every school, and support and training for LSCs.

In Bronzeville, community groups have worked for two years on a plan for Dyett High School and five elementary schools that feed into it.  Dyett would  become a Community High School of Green Technology and Leadership, and the elementary schools would focus variously on math, science, engineering, languages and global citizenship.

There would be curriculum alignment throughout the “village,” says Jitu Brown of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, along with health centers, a social worker and nurse, social-emotional and leadership programming, restorative justice, safety patrols, and pre-K for all.

The groups have called for a moratorium on school closings in Bronzeville, which has been hard hit by closings over the past decade, and which has a large number of schools which meet the new criteria.

“We’ve had ten years of closings, consolidations, and turnarounds, and they have not helped our students,” said Andrea Lee of Grand Boulevard Federation.

Brown points out that Dyett was under-resourced when it was turned into a high school to serve students who couldn’t get into the new King College Prep;  a couple years later it was “completely destabilized” when Englewood High was closed and students were sent to Dyett.

Constant destabilization

“We have to defend ourselves against our own school district,” which is “setting up our schools to fail,” he said.

“We’re looking at schools being constantly destabilized with models that just don’t work – just moving children around – and no accountability when they don’t work,” he said.

There’s evidence that the alternative strategy works.  Logan Square Neighborhood Association’s community schools are nationally acclaimed, and in a high-poverty, high-crime area on the Southwest Side, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council has worked for eight years in schools and seen steady improvement in  achievement levels.

BPNC’s full-service community schools provide afterschool academic support for struggling kids and homework help for others, followed by two hours of enrichment activity – music, art, drama, sports, “everything you can think of,” said Patrick Brosnan.

There’s ESL, GED, citizenship, and computer classes for parents, aimed at assisting them in supporting their children in school. There’s parent and student leadership development.

Each school has a resource coordinator and a social worker.  Funding comes from the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers program and other public and private sources.

“It’s building ownership over the school and trying to promote the school as a center of the community,” Brosnan said.  “We’ve seen tremendous results in schools that have a lot of challenges.”

Soto has announced the legislature’s Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force will hold a hearing on CPS school actions on Thursday, December 1 at 10 a.m. at the Bilandic Building, 160 N. LaSalle.

The Chicago Teachers Union is holding a teach-in on stopping  school closings for teachers, parents, and community groups on Saturday, December 3 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at King College Prep, 4445 S. Drexel.

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Championing neighborhood schools http://www.newstips.org/2011/11/championing-neighborhood-schools/ Mon, 21 Nov 2011 23:07:54 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4956 It’s now ten years since the launch of Renaissance 2010, the CPS campaign that closed scores of neighborhood schools and poured resources into scores of new charters.

The result?  Virtually no improvement in academic performance, according to the Chicago Consortium on School Research.  Better-resourced charters performing at the same level as neighborhood schools.  Worse, CPS’s racial achievement gap has only gotten larger.

The response from new city and school leadership?  They say they want much, much more of the same:  many more closings, many more charters.

What’s the alternative?  Nine community organizations are proposing a Neighborhood Agenda for Schools at an event on Tuesday.  They argue that since the vast majority of CPS students attend neighborhood schools, that’s where available resources should be focused.

The endorsers include groups that have long histories of involvement with schools, including nationally-recognized parent involvement, teacher training, community schools, anti-violence and student mentoring work.  Their recommendations flow from their extensive experience.

The groups include Action Now, Albany Park Neighborhood Council, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Enlace Chicago, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Organization of the Northeast, Southwest Organizing Project, and Target Area Development Corporation.  The College of Education of NEIU has also signed on.

The agenda will be released at a public event with 60 community activists from across the city, Tuesday, November 22, 10:30 a.m., at LSNA, 2840 N. Milwaukee.

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‘An amazing convergence’ http://www.newstips.org/2011/10/an-amazing-convergence/ Thu, 13 Oct 2011 22:34:42 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4821 It’s been a remarkable week in Chicago, a nonstop whirl of protests targeting the financial industry and government collusion with corporations, and demanding action on jobs, housing, and schools.

Coming Friday:  a rally for “jobs not cuts,” with MoveOn, Stand Up Chicago, Chicago Jobs With Justice and Occupy Chicago joining forces, at noon at the Federal Plaza.

Occupy Chicago gets much credit for capturing the public’s imagination – and for their 24-7 commitment and important organizational innovations.  But it was community groups and unions that staged some of the most dramatic and creative actions here this week.

“It’s an amazing convergence,” said Adam Kader of Arise Chicago.

It was activists from National People’s Action who kayaked down the Chicago River, past the Mortgage Bankers Assocation meeting, dressed as Robin Hood, on Monday.

It was Rev. Patrick Daymond of Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation and others who “embedded” themselves in an MBA session and took the floor there.  “We asked how they could sleep at night,” Dayden said, according to Progress Illinois.  “We asked how they can show their faces in Chicago knowing the devastation they have brought to our communities.”

On Tuesday, it was Action Now members who dumped garbage taken from a foreclosed, bank-owned inadequately-secured West Side home on the floor of Bank of America (five women aged 56 to 80 were arrested in the action).

Also Tuesday, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council members boarded up a vacant home owned by JPM Chase and brought a bill for the work to the bank’s downtown office; Albany Park Neighborhood Council members protested at the Chicago Association of Realtors.

Outside the MBA meeting, members of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs erected a sukkah, inviting MBA participants inside the ritual shelter (constructed for Sukkot, the holiday which marks the Israelite’s period of homeless wandering in the desert) to hear personal testimony from victims of the housing crisis.

Members of SOUL were arrested trying to enter the MBA conference.

On Wednesday, it was the Grassroots Collaborative which set up a giant Slushie – symbolizing the use of TIF as a corporate slush fund – and then held a “corporate welfare” trolley tour of downtown TIF subsidy recipients.

Also Wednesday, 100 teachers marched through the lobby of Bank of America, demanding the bank renegotiate “toxic rate swaps” they say are robbing Chicago schools of millions of dollars.

Thursday there was a series of protests at low-wage employers – and in the afternoon, Stand Up Chicago set up a casino outside the Chicago Board of Trade while demanding a financial transaction tax to pay for a Chicago Jobs Fund (discussed here last Saturday).

“It feels different,” said Kader, who’s been involved with Stand Up Chicago in planning the week’s actions – timed for two financial industry summits – for several months.  “In the past we would turn out our members,” but this time he’s been struck by the number of unaffiliated folks and passersby joining in.  “There’s something out there, and we just have to say here’s a time and place to come together.”

Media attention was notably greater than past protests – for example, see this Newstip on “anemic” local coverage of NPA’s 5,000-strong demostration at the American Bankers Association here in October 2009.

Only Mary Bottari of the Center for Media Democracy notes another convergence, tying the week’s protests to Mayor Emanuel’s efforts “to balance budget deficits on the back of public workers.”  (She also notes the recent revelation of Emanuel’s role as White House chief of staff in dissuading President Obama from his initial inclination to break up big banks, which progressives argue became dangerously oversized after the wall between commercial and investment banking was torn down in 2000.  Since then they’ve gotten bigger.)

What happens now?  Van Jones of Rebuild The Dream sees a period of “innovation and improvisation.”  He tells Alternet that Occupy Wall Street “is a huge, big deal; there will be other huge, big deals. There is a big thaw happening.  People have gone through a grieving process, and people want to fight.”

“The economic crisis [will get] worse,” says Jones, and “you’re going to have a lot of people suffering due to the economy.  That’s going to create a need for a response….That’s going to be a driver of innovation, the economic crisis.  People have to eat.  People have to live indoors.  People aren’t going to just lay down and die because Wall Street wants to hold up the economic recovery.”

His group has called for nationwide actions – leaving the details up to local groups – on November 17 on the theme of “jobs not cuts.”  Before that, according to Think Progress, a new group  has called for actions around the world to “demand true democracy” – on Saturday, October 15.  They report actions planned in over 800 cities in 71 countries.

And they’ve posted a short video highlighting the year in protests: Tunisia, Egypt, Spain, Greece, Israel, New York.  Who knows what’s next?  And as Phil Rosenthal points out in the Tribune, “one can only imagine what will greet visiting leaders in Chicago for the G8 and NATO summits next May.”

Take Back Chicago shows what can happen when diligent, energetic organizing, rooted in communities, aligns with the zeitgeist.

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