Drawing the Line
at the Brigade House

Revolutionary Worker #1001, April 11, 1999

"Fix them up and don't tear 'em down...
Enough is enough. We got to do something. We can't just keep talking about it.
We got to do something."

A resident of Chicago's Cabrini Green housing project,
at a rally to defend the Brigade House
at 1142 N. Orleans

"It's not about me. It's not about just this building... It's about making sure people have places to live, that people are not just thrown into the ground."

Seven, member of the
Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade
and a resident of 1142 N. Orleans

On April 1, a determined group of people gathered at the three-flat building at 1142 N. Orleans--known as the Brigade House. They came ready to confront a possible attempt by the Chicago city government and the police to evict the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade who live at the house. Kids from Cabrini Green were there--one minute yelling chants, the next minute calling out when they spotted a cop car, the next racing into the street to hawk issues of the Revolutionary Worker to passing motorists.

At the same time, a few miles away in a downtown courtroom, a housing court judge was getting ready to issue a decision on the City's demand to get immediate possession of the building. The Brigade House has been a center of opposition to the moves by the City and the Chicago Housing Authority to carry out their "redevelopment plan" and destroy the Cabrini Green public housing development.

Back at 1142 N. Orleans, about 10 cop cars and a paddy wagon pulled into a lot near the building--in anticipation of an attempt at immediate eviction, or as an effort to intimidate.

To the Chicago power structure and the real estate developers, the Brigade House is an obstacle to their plans to destroy the community of Black people in this area and turn it into an upscale money-making zone. The signs in the front windows of the Brigade House spell out the terms of the battle in three words: "Stop Urban Cleansing." The two-block area where 1142 stands used to be filled with small businesses, restaurants, residences and a church. Except for the Brigade House, this area is now all rubble--one more vacant lot added to those dotting the neighborhood like ugly scars. Just to the west are two Cabrini Green highrises. Once home to hundreds of poor Black people who raised their families and lived out their hopes and dreams, the buildings are now vacant and boarded up-- in line for demolition, like four other Cabrini highrises already destroyed so far.

A quick look to the north of the Brigade house brings a starkly different sight. There are rows and rows of condos with prices starting at a few hundred grand. A new library. A brand new strip mall with the obligatory Blockbuster Video and high-priced supermarket. To the east lies the Gold Coast, one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the U.S.

Two worlds in collision--with the dividing line now running straight through 1142 N. Orleans.

The defense of 1142 also impacts beyond what's happening to Cabrini itself. As the "Pledge to Resist Urban Cleansing" says, "The fate of 1142 is tightly tied up with the whole future of public housing. The future of literally thousands of families are right now on the government's hit list. This showdown will also impact city policy towards other neighborhoods targeted for `redevelopment.'<|>"

So there are big stakes involved in the struggle over 1142--and the power structure has tried hard to force the RCYB out and demolish the Brigade House. The water department tried to cut off the water. The city lawyers filed motions to get immediate possession. They offered a "settlement" of thousands of dollars to induce the Brigaders to leave before the lease ran out. The bait was refused. The police constantly harass, threaten and arrest Brigade members.

The City was especially stung by the February 22, 1997 protest by 300 Cabrini residents and their supporters which disrupted Mayor Daley's "redevelopment" plans. In retaliation, the police arrested RCYB members AK Small and Shawn Wall. This case has become an important front in the struggle against urban cleansing--and it has exposed how the Chicago police use their "anti-gang" database to maintain illegal political police records on Brigade activists. When the RCYB2 went into court on March 22, they learned that the disorderly conduct charge against AK was being dropped. But the prosecutor is pressing ahead with the resisting arrest charge. The trial date is now reset for May 10.

In the face of the enemy's attacks, the Brigade has gone out to the Cabrini residents and community at large for support. Over 200 Cabrini residents have signed a support statement demanding: "We want 1142 N. Orleans preserved, rehabbed and put to use to serve the community in a continuing way." Margo Crawford, a longtime activist and educator in the Cabrini Green community, filed papers to have 1142 N. Orleans officially declared a "designated landmark." Cora Moore, president of Cabrini's Local Advisory Council, made a proposal to establish a Medgar Evers Museum in 1142 N. Orleans. During the '50s, major civil rights leader Medgar Evers made 1142 his home while investigating the Mississippi lynching of Chicago youth Emmett Till.

A recent letter from the Chicago authorities to the residents of 1142 warned that the lease officially expires on March 31 and threatened that "the property is scheduled for demolition on April 1." On March 31, over 50 people rallied at the front of 1142 to "draw the line against urban cleansing." Two women residents of Cabrini spoke out in support of the Brigade House. In a taped message, Mae Johnson called on people to stand with "AK and all the residents of 1142." She remembered how the Brigaders and others stood with her when the CHA tried to force her from her home. Rene Maxwell of the Coalition to Protect Public Housing and Marlon Esguerra of the League of Filipino Students read poems. A Native American woman --an entertainer who performs for people at nursing homes and at a nearby halfway house--denounced this country built on "blood," "deceit" and "lies."

Dr. Nehemiah Russell, principal of the nearby Cabrini Green Middle College, called out the government's attempts to "remove African Americans and replace them with affluent European Americans" in cities across the country. He said this was "ethnic cleansing" and urged people to "stand up and fight for our land, even to the death." Arriba, spokesperson for RCP, Chicago branch, said, "This is the front lines. We're not just fighting for the here and now, we're fighting for the future, and the lives of thousands of people."

On April 1, the judge ruled that the city could take immediate possession of the building. The lawyers for the residents of 1142 N. Orleans filed a motion to reconsider the decision. As we go to press a hearing on the motion is scheduled for Friday, April 9. The City has scheduled a demolition crew for April 7, raising the possibility that they might make a move on 1142 before the court date.

The residents of Cabrini Green have made clear their desire to see 1142 remain a part of their community and a center of struggle against urban cleansing and police brutality. The City's cold response is to threaten them with bulldozers and police. The RCYB and their supporters are continuing to mobilize people to "draw the line at 1142."

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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