Community breaks police blockade, 'Camp Whittier' gets a third night to demand a library for the children

It could have been a scene from the blacklisted movie "Salt of the Earth," or from any of a dozen other films that depict the struggles of working people. But it was happening in real time in Chicago in 2010, and once again a group of working people, most of them women and children, broke a police blockade and thwarted attempts by Ron Huberman and the people who rule Chicago's public schools to demolish a simple wooden building just west of the century old Whittier Elementary School on Chicago's Southwest side.

Part of the crowd celebrating the departure of Chicago police from the Whittier Elementary School field house at approximately 3:00 p.m. on September 17, 2010. The protesters above had defied a police cordon and swarmed down 23rd St. to the site of the protest just before police were to move in and arrest the mothers who had been occupying the field house for two nights and days. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The stage had been set all day, as Chicago police, acting on orders from two Chicago Public Schools officials, CPS Communications Chief Monique Bond and CPS Security Chief Michael Shields, prepared to arrest a small group of protesters, most of them mothers, who had occupied the Whittier Elementary School fieldhouse in the 1900 block of west 23rd St., to stop the demolition of the structure. The community wants the building turned into a library. The Board of Education wants to demolish and turn into a soccer field primarily for the use of a parochial school (Cristo Rey) nearby.

The word had spread at "Camp Whittier" that the Chicago police were going to force the protesters out of the Whitter field house and arrest those who refused to leave. The police all day had been acting under orders from CPS officials, leading to some strange questions about who was in charge of Chicago's understaffed police department. Police officials had made it clear that when CPS officials asked them to clear "CPS property", they would have to do so. They had made it equally clear that the arrests would begin around 2:45 p.m. on September 17, 2010, after the overcrowded Whittier Elementary School had dismissed its students for the day so the little ones wouldn't be watching the eviction of their mothers and neighbors from a public building.

But the "little ones" and many of their parents and siblings had a different idea.

The entire day, the police, which are short staffed on Chicago's streets because of cutbacks in street patrols ordered by Mayor Richard M. Daley's hand picked Police Superintendent, Jody Wiess, had literally created martial law on the two city blocks surrounding the Whittier school building, which sits at 1901 W. 23th St., at the corner of Wolcott and 23rd St. Shortly after ten o'clock in the morning the police began sealing off the block, first refusing to allow people to enter from the west on 23rd St. (at Western Ave.), then sealing off the Wolcott end of the block.

Part of the crowd that surged down 23rd St. in Chicago shortly after school was dismissed on September 17, 2010. After a five-hour-long siege on the street around the school (the police had blocked off both ends of the street and the alleys, and had refused to allow anyone to walk down the street), parents and students, who had just been dismissed from Whittier, told police that they didn't think the "Police Line" tape could stop them from walking down a street in their own community, and within minutes more than 100 people had joined the protests, bringing pizza, water, and support to the protesters, who were about to be arrested for demanding a library. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Finally, police sealed the alleys both north and south of 23rd St. as well, creating a restricted zone for the entire block. Police even refused to allow some members of the press to gain access to the Whittier field house where the camp out was taking place. Attorney James Fennerty, who represents the protesters, was also barred from the area directly inside the perimeter. Police told Fennerty that he had the secure permission from CPS Chief Security Officer Michael Shields, and Shields refused throughout the morning to speak with Fennerty, despite numerous attempts by Fenntery to speak with Shields, as observed by this reporter, and others (including members of the press). Shields has continued to treat the press with contempt, and his performance on Friday September 17 was typical of the way he has operated since taking his current $150,000 per year job after being appointed by Ron Huberman in February 2009. (Shields's salary is $35,000 per year more than his predecessor, former Chicago police officer Andres Durbak, who was forced out by Huberman).

Throughout the day, Shields and CPS Communications Chief Monique Bond had tried to orchestrate the event so that CPS remained in control of the message.

Bond even produced a document which claimed that the field house was unsafe for habitation, dated September 16 (the morning after the occupation began) and supposedly from an engineering firm. Bond also told the press that CPS, which has a budget of more than $6 billion, could not afford the less than half a million dollar renovations that the protesters were asking so that the building could become a school library.

At approximately 2:40 p.m., more than 100 protesters who had been confined a block away, behind a police barrier at 23rd and Wolcott, took down the Police Line tape and surged down the block towards the Whittier playlot, on which the field house sits. Ignoring police orders to stay on the sidewalks, dozens of the newly arrived reinforcements jumped a false wrought iron fence (a symbol of the administration of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley) and begin carrying boxes of pizza and water to the protesters in the field house. 


September 18, 2010 at 7:42 AM

By: Susan Ohanian

'Camp Whittier' gets a second night to demand a library for the children

This is exciting news: Parents demanding a library, the true mainstay of 21st Century literacy.

Ha. Where's Oprah? Bill Cosby?

Hey, where's Arne with some special incentive grant?

Three cheers for parents!!

September 18, 2010 at 9:15 AM

By: kugler

Another Example of Criminal Politics

Chicago politics shows yet another example of corruption and disenfranchisement of the local community for private monetary gain. This is not a new issue and these people have been trying to resolve this through meetings and notifications to the BoE. All of which have been ignored. Then as papa Daley has done in the past there was going to be the destruction of public infrastructure without any public debate or input.

These people are individuals that are tired of the tyrannical and autocratic policies that seek to enrich every crony hiding in the shadows of da mayor.

$354,000 for demolition of the building should be a red flag for anyone. From what I have seen being on the site over the last few days it should be no more the 50,000 including back-fill to complete the demo of this job so for sure there is some hockey pockey going on here. Just somebody turned on the lights and all the roaches scattered!

Anyone that can should stop by and give these people some moral and physical support against these criminals that hurt children. There is even a report that shields was grabbing or pushing children. An offense that would be cause for termination under the EDC.

John Kugler

September 18, 2010 at 9:19 AM

By: kugler

We stuck together and won!

from today's suntimes.

Officials swept in to tack "No Trespassing" signs all over the building. And police moved in. The group was given a 2:45 p.m. deadline to leave or be arrested. But just as the deadline passed, school let out, and a sea of parents, students and teachers pushed past the street barricades shouting, "Si Puedo!" They pushed past police, some fighting their way into the field house. And when it seemed the crowd was out of control, police and CPS officials suddenly broke camp and left. Shouts of, "We won!" went out.

"We stuck together and won!" pronounced community member Evelin Santos. "We're going to stay here until we get our letter of commitment!"

September 18, 2010 at 10:26 AM

By: John Whitfield

Courageous "madres de familia"

Great news! Like the little village mothers

who went on a hungar strike to get a new high school built. And republic steel doors and windlows. Leave not these "madres de familia" to the circling sharks.

! Si', se puede !

Jesus Garcia for mayor, though we would settle for Emma Lozano!

September 18, 2010 at 12:14 PM

By: Belle Lugosi


Where is Oprah? Why, she's hanging out with all the other corporate whores. They'll be on her show on Monday, September 20, to promote their latest propaganda piece, "Waiting for Superman".

September 18, 2010 at 5:00 PM

By: Larry Duncan


Has anyone come up with the possible cost of simply replacing the roof as compared to the City's cost of paying for all those cops to hang around starting on Friday...and the clock may be ticking more days next week on that.

September 19, 2010 at 5:12 AM

By: George N. Schmidt

Costs of Whittier Library

The Whittier Library could have become a reality for less than the cost of the deployment of police, police vehicles, an ambulance, and the three CPS bureaucrats who were all involved in Friday's standoff. Michael Shields, who heads security for Ron Huberman (based on his dubious nepotistic cop credentials) is being paid $150,000 per year by the CPS taxpayers. That's $35,000 per year more than his predecessor, Andres Durbak, who was paid $115,000 per year and had bona fide cop credentials.

Shields's talents were on display Friday when he rushed in to block women and children at the door to Camp Whittier, shouting "Don't touch me!" and "Lock the door! Lock the door" (the locks were, sadly, broken) at the cops and CPS security who were there for the grand finale when the community and children ignored the police cordon and arrived at Camp Whittier.

Shields's talents were matched by those of his soul mate, CPS propaganda chieftan Monique Bond (roughly $130,000 per year; again, $30,000 higher than her predecessor, Mike Vaughn). Bond spent the day trying to spin the Board of Education's lies to reporters, who became more skeptical with each passing lie. The best was the "engineer report" Bond brought to show (but not share) with the press. Dated September 16, 2010, the "report" claimed that the Camp Whittier building was unsafe — UNSAFE DO YOU UNDERSTAND! — for human beings to be inside of.


Like Ron Huberman, who was in Washington D.C. with his soul mate Arne Duncan touting "Waiting for Superman" and hob nobbing with the corporate billionaires about the next corporate school reform scam, Monique and Michael try to spin everything they do against poor people as a claim that they are only doing it for "the children." Bond actually told reporters that she couldn't make copies of the "engineer's report" because of the budget problems the poor Huberman administration is facing. A half block away was a CPS school, in session, with at least three photocopying machines, any of which would have gladly produced a couple of dozen copies of that "engineer report" in less than five minutes. Instead, Bond with a straight face claimed they had only one copy and placed it carefully under the windshield wiper of a van in the teacher parking lot so that reporters (including me) could photograph it (but not get a copy).

Bond and Shields were lying, as usual. And power tripping in a dangerous and expensive way.

The trouble with that THE BUILDING IN UNSAFE! claim was that most of the reporters had been inside the building and could see that fact that it was not only safe, but clean, The only problem with the structure was the roof, which leaks because CPS hasn't repaired it since Jimmy Carter was President of the United States. Every reporter there could imagine what the roof of their home would be like if it were older than most of the reporters covering the story.

Yet Bond kept claiming that CPS was absolutely positively broke and that the building was absolutely positively definitely UNSAFE! DO YOU UNDERSTAND! WE'RE SENDING IN THE COPS FOR THE SAKE OF THE SAFETY OF THE CHILDREN!

The whole skein of lies spewing from CPS the whole day was against the backdrop of potential arrests, which CPS was demanding. The police wisely avoided arrests, despite the growing hysteria of Shields, but the joke inside the police cordon (which stretched from Wolcott to Damen and from the alley north of Whittier to the Alley to the south) was that that block was the safest place on the south side of Chicago that day. The police and CPS security had the protesters inside the building (whom I counted when I went inside) outnumbered by about three to one. Heck, there were as many police white shirts there (from a commander to a couple of lieutenants and sergeants) as protesters. CPD's deployment included 10th District Commander Berscott Ruiz, plus many others. It's nice to know the 10th was safe enough for all that talent to be at Camp Whittier all day Friday, on orders from Bond and Shields. (Of course, watching a couple of CPS bureaucrats get hysterical while preparing to arrest a bunch of non-violent mothers is not bad police duty in Chicago's 10th District. There are a lot more dangerous ways to earn a day's pay as a cop in Chicago in 2010... as the community knew once night fell and the 1900 block of 23rd St. remained calm despite some sad events nearby).

Shields, meanwhile, is so good at his job that he forgets to provide his own security details with breaks, or water while they are ordered to stand in the hot sun for hours on a late summer afternoon.

Monique Bond was going around the whole time telling everyone (from the corporate media) that the CPS "budget crisis" (which she has milked dry) made it such that CPS didn't have one dollar to spend on Whittier. For about a half hour, every time I began to photograph her she gave me a shot of her back or running away. No question was too basic to be evaded.

The trouble with claiming CPS was borke is that anyone there from the press had been invited -- by Bond -- to a half dozen media events across Chicago during the previous ten days. Just about every morning, CPS was announcing the opening of a brand new school, with Ron Huberman, CPS officials (including a platoon of $100,000 per year bureaucrats with nothing else to do that stand around the mayor in Richie's Rainbow), and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley cutting a ribbon. With each new school costing between $30 million (the elementary schools) and $125 million (the new Westinghouse) it was truly amazing that Bond, with a straight face (sort of) could continue to repeat her lines about "budget". But she did, the whole day.

The reporters at Camp Whittier, some of whom had covered the publicity stunts Bond and the Mayor's press office had been staging for every school opening this school year, knew better. Daley's minions, including Bond and Shields, claiming poverty was like your uncle telling the family he couldn't afford the rent after spending a week in Vegas with a showgirl on each arm. These people really think they can get away with any lie, as long as they are telling it to people who don't care about people who don't matter.

September 19, 2010 at 10:21 AM

By: Susan Ohanian


Yes, Belle Lugosi,

I realize my sarcasm didn't come through. I agree that Oprah & Cosby are corporate whores.

The mothers at Whittier remind me of the women depicted in Barbara Kingsolver's Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike of 1983. This book doesn't get the publicity garnered by her novels, but it is inspiring to read about the courage and fortitude of these ordinary women who "held the line" each day, picketing against the "scab" workers that were brought in by the Phelps Dodge Copper Corporation.

Teachers and parents from across the country need to support these Chicago mothers.

September 19, 2010 at 10:31 AM

By: J.Whitfield

! Si', se puede !

Since President Obama exploited the ! Si', se puede ! slogan to the max, now it is time, just as the "Republic steel doors and windows" were supported by the White House, for Arne Duncan and President Obama to step in, as well as mayor Daley, and do the right thing.

It seems that the latter has realized that dual language is the best form of Bilingual Education, having seen his picture in the press alongside Ron Huberman's photo at a dual language school in the backdrop of two, obviously intelligent Hispanic girls conversing during lunch.

And surely by now, he should have realized that Whittier, like Rachel Carson, Cooper, and other Chicago Schools teach children the right thing. That is, to grow and function in two languages while leaning English, is the way to go.

Someone in power here needs to swallow their pride, step in, and side with the parents who only want equal educational opportunity for their offspring.

The main focus here, should be kept on the school's need (and right)to have a library,

and support by any means necessary, for those parents, children, and teachers at the helm of this cause. It should not take forever, as did the construction of the new high school, when the little village mothers fasted for so long for the cause.

! Viva la causa !

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