Chicago: The System vs. the Brigade House

Revolutionary Worker #1002, April 18, 1999

As we go to press, the struggle to stop the eviction and demolition of Chicago's Brigade House continues. Members of the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade --who live at the brick three-flat at 1142 N. Orleans--are locked in an intense fight with the power structure. The government, the Chicago Housing Authority and the developers want to tear down the house as part of their plans to demolish the Cabrini-Green housing projects and disperse the Black community in the area. The Brigade, many residents of Cabrini, and their supporters want the building to remain standing to serve the people and the community. The Brigade House has come to be appreciated as a center of struggle against the city's "urban cleansing" schemes and against police brutality. The building is also of historic importance to the people--Medgar Evers, a leading civil rights leader, stayed there while investigating the Mississippi lynching of Chicago youth Emmett Till in the late 1950s.

As we reported last week, a housing court judge ruled that the city could take possession of the building. The lawyer for the Brigade House filed an appeal of that decision, and a stay of eviction was issued until midnight, April 13. On Monday morning, April 12, the judge is scheduled to decide on the motion to appeal his decision on the eviction. The Brigade has put out a call for a 11 p.m. vigil on April 13, one hour before the stay of eviction expires.

Confronted with the threats from the authorities, the Brigade has gone out to the Cabrini community and beyond to mobilize support and call on people to "draw the line" against urban cleansing. Daily vigils have been held at the Brigade House. Starting early in the morning, people stop by and show their support. Some come for a few hours. Others stick it out all day, every day. They include current and former residents of Cabrini-Green, older people and the youth; college students and educators; activists from groups such as Friends of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, Coalition to Protect Public Housing, October 22nd Coalition, Refuse and Resist!, and League of Filipino Students. It's quite a scene. Drivers pass by and honk in support, sometimes stopping to take flyers and give encouragement. Passengers in the nearby elevated train cars wave to supporters who hold up signs demanding "Fix 'em up, don't tear 'em down" and "Stop Urban Cleansing."

The city authorities have claimed that the Brigade House needs to be torn down to make way for the expansion of the nearby Seward Park. But on April 8, Alvin-Bey Carter, president of the Advisory Council of Seward Park, stated publicly: "1142 N. Orleans is not an obstruction to Seward Park...the proposal for 1142 becoming a landmark would be an enhancement for the community." Cora Moore, President of the Cabrini-Green Local Advisory Council, has filed a letter with the court stating, "The Cabrini-Green Local Advisory Council has agreed to co-partner with the local museum and the residents of 1142 N. Orleans to develop a museum highlighting Afro-American history. Particularly honoring Civil Rights Leader Medgar Evers... We have further contacted the Chicago Historical Society to seek support in having this building on the National Register, which would exempt it from demolition."

There has been important coverage in the mainstream media. An AP wire service story quoted RCYB member AK Small saying, "I'm a revolutionary. I think the solution to the housing issue is revolution. But you don't have to be a radical to be upset by what's going on here." Local TV news and newspapers have run stories about the house.

A reporter from the RW has been out each day, talking to people who come out to defend the house.

"I don't see why they should tear this down." said Yvonne, 61. "I don't see why they should tear any of this down in the neighborhood." Cabrini was once home to Yvonne, and her two sons still live there. She was just let go from a low-paying job at a candy factory. She talked about the human costs of the city's "redevelopment" plan: "Where's the people gonna stay, where they gonna get the money? My god, they're making it off of us, the rich folks is. They thriving off of us poor folks."

Cheryl lived in Cabrini 42 years. One of the already demolished Cabrini highrises had been her home. "All of this area means a lot to me, because everything that I grew up in the neighborhood seeing and learning from it be gone...You have generations after generations up in here. To me that's just like you taking my roots from Africa--now you want to take my roots from Cabrini-Green."

What's on the line at 1142 N. Orleans is much more than the fate of one building or whether the Brigade members have a roof over their heads. The Brigade House stands in the way of a far larger plan to destroy Cabrini-Green and attack public housing overall. Bankers and political officials have long eyed this area as a potential source for huge profits--if they can remove the thousands of poor Black families. And city planners fear having a large concentration of poor people so close to the glitter of their downtown.

One sister who lives in a Cabrini row house talked about why she thought this fight was "paramount": "They're individuals that come out no matter what and they show their support and they get involved in any way that they possibly can with the residents of Cabrini... I'm 29 years old and I've lived in just about every community in this city. I have been in areas that were gentrified, and moved from one area to another, so I know how it feels--it is not nice and I'm tired of it. So this is one of the ways I can make my stand."

Reverend Paul Jakes, Jr., an anti-police brutality activist who heads the Christian Coalition on Urban Affairs, stood in the doorway to 1142 one cold morning when the 40-mile-an-hour winds sent wind chills to near freezing. "I think that so often those who write history try to rewrite it, and it becomes his-story rather than the real story of the community." The fact that 1142 was once home to Medgar Evers has a great deal of meaning to him. "Here we are today standing in 1999, but there's nothing that I have said that wasn't said 40 or 30 years ago during the struggle that me and others have fought. This building should be preserved...for young people to know and be educated that this is a place where people who took a hard-line stand against wrong and evil stayed."

The consistent presence of supporters at the house clearly has had an impact on the court's decisions and how much maneuvering room the authorities feel they have. Several deadlines for evictions have been reset, and the bulldozers have been kept away so far. But the threat from the armed forces of the state is barely hidden. Early Monday morning on April 5, three sheriffs' cars pulled up at the house, and deputies pounded on the front doors--leaving only after they were shown a court paper saying this was not the eviction date. The house is constantly watched by police. On April 8, as a group of Cabrini-Green residents, construction workers, Brigade members and others marched to protest the destruction of public housing and demand jobs for Cabrini residents--80 cops turned out in a show of force.

Paul, an art student, has come out to the vigil every day. "It just shows first and foremost the fact that government doesn't care about the people that it governs, it's just an apparatus of the ruling class. it's just a means of enforcing economic expansion... We live in a society where there doesn't have to be any homeless people, [where] affordable livable housing for everyone is a possible reality. For me it's a matter of struggling to bring that reality into existence."

Early one morning, a man with a cast on his leg came up to the Brigade House, taking flyers to spread the word to friends around Cabrini-Green. Emanuel was a Cabrini resident--until he became one of the thousands "dispersed" by the city's "redevelopment" plans. He knows the revolutionaries from when he used to live here: "I remember years ago, they used to walk through the projects and pass out the papers and literature. To try to politically educate the people. And let them know what's being done to them not only here but around the country." Emanuel feels strongly that the Brigade House belongs in Cabrini. If the city wins and the building is gone, "They'll be able to remove one more bulwark in our stand against injustice."

The RCYB members and their supporters are determined to stop the powers from getting their way. The fight against "urban cleansing" is intensifying.

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