"Stop Urban Cleansing

The Attack on Chicago Brigade House

Revolutionary Worker #977, October 11, 1998

The rumbling train of Chicago's elevated Ravenswood line passes right by Cabrini Green. Out the windows to the west you see the high towers of the housing projects and the people--coming, going and hanging out in groups along the streets. To the east you see the new rows of high-priced townhouses, pressing in, taking over one street after another. And you can see from the train a single, rundown apartment building, standing alone, surrounded by rubble, right between the housing projects and the advancing townhomes. A defiant and now-notorious banner hangs from the third floor, visible to the residents of Cabrini and to the thousands of people who travel the "El" line toward downtown Chicago every day. The banner says, "Stop Urban Cleansing."

This building is 1142 N. Orleans, better known in Cabrini Green as "the Brigade House." Activists from the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade (RCYB) have participated actively in the struggle to stop the destruction of these projects. Two Brigaders living in the House, AK Small and Shawn Wall, are facing charges and a possible year in prison--singled out for arrest at a large action of Cabrini residents against the demolition of their projects.

This Brigade House is a center of revolutionary politics--it's a place the community's youth come to hang out, watch videos, study the Revolutionary Worker newspaper. This is a place where people call from the streets when the pigs are running wild--harassing and persecuting the people. This is one of the places where people meet to fight evictions and where activists will soon gather to make plans for Chicago's October 22 protest against police brutality.

For over a year, this Brigade House has been a key center of the resistance in Cabrini Green--defending the people, their homes and their community. And now it is itself under attack. The city government of Chicago took over ownership of this building by declaring "eminent domain" -- and now they intend to bring in the wrecking ball and destroy it.

The authorities claim that anyone opposing this destruction is "standing in the way of progress." But many people see it differently. The defense of the Brigade House has now become an important struggle in the fight for Cabrini Green itself.

Drawing the Line

"It hardly seems worth fighting over."

Chicago Tribune, October 1, 1998

"It ain't about this one building. It ain't about Seward Park. It's about this community and the people being pushed into other inferior neighborhoods. If they tear this building down, you know they're not going to stop."

K. So, editor of
Voices of Cabrini newsletter

"[The attack on 1142 N. Orleans] is part of the continued dastardly displacement process that has run hundreds, even thousands, of Cabrini-Green and Near North Side residents out of the city."

Dr. Nehemiah Russell,
principal of Cabrini-Green Middle College

"This whole community is under attack. And the destruction of Cabrini is being used as a national model--a pattern for removing and dispersing oppressed people and offering up their communities to real estate developers and banks. The whole process puts profits first, and the people a distant second. We have seen them attack the projects here, but also small Black property owners and immigrant merchants. And now they are coming to destroy our Brigade House. This house is part of the people's resistance. And the fight to save this house has become a way people are taking on the oppressor now--not letting them just beat everyone down and drive everyone out."

AK Small

Last year, the Chicago city government announced a new plan for "redevelopment." In addition to pressing ahead with the destruction of Cabrini Green, they started targeting homes and businesses of the surrounding Black community. In the last few months, city authorities took over, and then destroyed, six buildings near the housing projects--including a church, a restaurant and a dry cleaner. It is to make room for the city's "Seward Park Redevelopment Project"--to serve the expanding community of high-priced townhomes. It is especially bitter to see the expansion of all kinds of services as Black and proletarian people get moved out. For decades this has been a poor part of town--and it showed. There was little here for the people and for the kids. But now that Cabrini Green is under attack, the authorities and the banks are financing all kinds of things--there are suddenly new shopping centers going up, new schools, a new park, a library, a set of tennis courts... not for the original inhabitants of the community, but for those who are expected to replace them. And then there are the police--who constantly harass the people of Cabrini to drive them out.

The Brigade House is on one of the key city blocks targeted for new development. Just north is a park that the city intends to use for a new shopping center--and so they are planning to take over the 1100 block of N. Orleans as a replacement park. Just recently, they destroyed the Pakistani restaurant on the corner--cutting off water to the building and stopping the owner from carrying on his business, and then wiping it out with the wrecking ball.

All that is left in the rubble of this block now is the Brigade House. And it has quickly become clear that destroying this house will not be so easy. The RCYB and their supporters in the surrounding community are fighting back--by taking the issue to the people, and by challenging the planned destruction in court.

In September the water was suddenly shut off to the Brigade House. According to a supervisor of the city's water department, the order came from high places--from David Tkac, a special assistant to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. Many different people in Cabrini and throughout Chicago organized a phone campaign that demanded the water be turned back on. And the city backed down.

The Brigade House has received support from Cora Moore, president of the Cabrini Green Local Advisory Council; Carole Steele of the Cabrini Row House Resident Management; the Coalition to Protect Public Housing; the Metropolitan Tenants Organization; and the Work-Ship Coalition.

Meanwhile, the campaign against the Brigade House took a strange turn when the "North Town Community Congress," an outfit run by a highly connected real estate developer, announced a press conference in front of 1142 N. Orleans to denounce the residents, and to support the destruction of the building. This press conference was supposed to give the impression that "the community" supports the continued destruction of...the community. This little plot was turned around--when real forces from the community held a counter press conference.

On Wednesday, September 30, two opposing conferences were held in front of the Brigade House. In one corner, a tiny knot of developers, city officials and others--fronting for the power structure. In the other corner, the Brigaders, well-known activists of the community like Margo Crawford and Dr. Nehemiah Russell--and with them, over 60 Black youth from Cabrini Green standing up for the Brigade House.

Two young Black women cornered reporters and spoke up--saying that the destruction of 1142 N. Orleans was the next step in the destruction of the housing project and their homes--and that they were solidly against it.

Margaret Crawford, former principal of the DePaul Alternative High School, described how significant numbers of her students have been dispersed to distant suburbs--far from their friends and disrupting their education.

Even Chicago's official media had to cover the support for the Brigade House and the resistance to the redevelopment. The next day, on October 1, a county judge ordered the Mayor's Redevelopment Project to postpone destruction of the Brigade house by postponing the court case until October 13.


"People see our Brigade House as a line that has been drawn. Someone recently visited the House, and after seeing where it is and what we do there, said, `No wonder they are coming to tear it down.' And people in the community say to us, `You have been telling us to stand strong, so now you have to stand strong yourselves.' And of course that is right, and that is exactly what we are going to do."

RCYB activist talking to the RW

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