Chicago Brigade House:
Standing Tall Against Eviction

Revolutionary Worker #1005, May 9, 1999

"Free the Brigade! No Urban Cleansing!"

residents and supporters of the
Chicago Brigade House, April 20

"We stand by what we have done. We have won a moral and political victory that cannot be taken away or demolished. We have forced the City of Chicago to show it serves a small, greedy, and avaricious class of monied people. The City government is carrying out orders which are against the will of the people of Cabrini Green and against the interest of most people in Chicago. The whole case of the ongoing demolition of public and low income housing and the workings of the housing courts to evict entire communities shows this: that there can be no remedy or relief for the poor that will endure for long while capitalism exists."

A.K. Small of the Chicago RCYB,
a statement read after AK was arrested
in the police raid at 1142 North Orleans

"The City is a landlord like any other landlord, and when their lease is up the City has the right to evict them to use the land for other purposes."

Jennifer Hoyle, a lawyer
for the City of Chicago

"I won't ever forget this day. This is the true face of America. They're just showing you the piracy that they've always been a part of."

R., a young man from the neighborhood who rushed to the Brigade House
when the raid went down

On Tuesday, April 20, the final showdown went down at 1142 North Orleans, where members of Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade (RCYB) lived and organized in Chicago's Cabrini Green housing project.

The authorities made their move at 8:30 in the morning--a typically cowardly, swarm attack by Cook County Sheriffs. A loud alarm from the Brigade House alerted the neighborhood as a convoy of 18 police cars pulled up. Fifty pigs of many kinds jumped out, along with police dogs. The block was sealed off. Sledge hammers pounded at the front door. Outside, the Brigade supporters sang: "You keepa knocking, but you can't come in!"

Firemen cut though the back of the house and cops entered. It took them almost an hour to reach the upper floor. They held guns on the five resisters there--Brigade members and their supporters.

Arrested, the resisters were taken from the building in handcuffs--defiant, heads high. They included AK Small, Grant Newberger and Shawn Wall of the Chicago RCYB; and Sarah Klepner, an activist with the Defense Committee for 1142 N. Orleans. The fifth arrested resister was Michael Coffman, a long-time RW distributor in the neighborhood. The TV cameras rolled and the nearby crowd chanted its support for the resisters.

Drawing the Line

"We must ourselves decide our duty, we must decide and do it well.

from the Internationale, anthem
of the revolutionary proletariat

The Chicago RCYB announced that they would "Draw the Line" at 1142 N. Orleans--that they would take a stand there for the people of Cabrini Green and against the wrecking ball of the system. The Brigaders stood firm against the threats and injustices of the system. They won the admiration of many people when they disdainfully rejected almost $30,000 in bribes offered to them by the City authorities.

The Brigade and supporters of 1142 tirelessly explained that the authorities wanted the Brigade House down because they wanted to destroy the Cabrini Green housing projects and the surrounding Black community. Four Cabrini Green highrise buildings have been demolished. Five now stand vacant and boarded up. Eight others are on the hit list. It is part of the federal plan to eliminate 100,000 units of public housing by the year 2000--18,000 in Chicago alone. Poor Black families are being driven out, as wealthier and usually white residents are moving in. The authorities are motivated by their cravings for profit and their fear of large concentrations of poor Black people close to downtown Chicago. Cabrini Green is an important frontline in the system's war on the poor.

The Brigaders called on people to "Draw the Line" with them--and, over the months before April 20, support grew. New activists hooked up. Networks formed. New allies were found. And many, many people throughout the Chicago area heard (often for the first time) a whole different perspective on the destruction of Cabrini Green.

An Emergency Response Network was formed to defend the Brigade House. When the lease for the Brigade House expired on April 1, the Chicago city authorities announced they would destroy the house. Every day--for 19 days--supporters held a vigil at 1142 to support this fight for public housing and the resisters inside. They came from the nearby projects and all over the Chicago area. People volunteered to take shifts in the house. Two young white women joined in after seeing the signs "Stop Urban Cleansing" from a passing transit train. One quit her job rather than miss a day at the House.

Cora Moore, president of Cabrini Green's Local Advisory Council, wrote a letter urging the use of 1142 as the site for a Black history museum. Al Carter-Bey, president of Seward Park Advisory Council, issued a statement opposing demolition. Over 400 Cabrini residents and others signed statements of support for the Brigade House. Members of the League of Filipino Students came by day and night. Ministers, activists, journalists and professors came by to lend support. A contingent of kids from Cabrini ran in the streets leafleting passing cars. Boundaries between different sections of the people were broken down. New alliances were made.

During this campaign, the struggle for public housing forced its way into the mainstream media. Brigaders and other housing activists were interviewed on TV and radio, in the major newspapers, and in many of Chicago's Black and community newspapers. Streetwise, Chicago's homeless newspaper, reported regularly on the fight for 1142 and on the stakes of the battle. New City, one of Chicago's free weeklies, featured the Brigaders on its front page. Talk show host Steve Dahl featured the struggle on his website.

When the cops finally attacked on April 20, they had to do it in the glare of all the major media of the Chicago area. The evening TV news showed the Brigade House resisters led off in handcuffs, and followed up with a statement by Seven, one of the Chicago Brigaders, explaining that this stand had been taken to resist the system's attacks on poor people. As the City's wrecking crews prepared to destroy the House, well-known activists stepped forward to the media microphones--denouncing the city raid and upholding the resisters of 1142.

Reverend Paul Jakes, Jr., a prominent activist against police brutality, explained: "I'm here in support of Cabrini Green and Cora Moore and the residents of this community. There has been such a disrespectful cleansing in this community--where people have been moved out of their homes." Speaking about the resisters of the Brigade House, Jakes added, "They fought gallantly and they certainly are heroes today, because they stood in order to give reflection of what has happened right behind us," pointing to vacant highrises in Cabrini Green.

Arriba Jue from the Chicago Branch of the RCP said: "This was an example of the kind of fight people are gonna need to wage in order to save their housing. They have been in the courts, they took every legal recourse and there is no justice in the courts.... The only justice we're gonna get is justice in the streets.... Cabrini Green is on the front lines and that's why they had to go after this house--because it was a symbol of resistance and a symbol of those who stood up against police brutality and urban cleansing."

More to Come

"Create favorable conditions through struggle."

Mao Tsetung

The Brigade House resisters were charged with "obstruction." One of them, Sarah Klepner, received additional (and totally trumped-up) charges of "battery"--when three cops claimed to have been "battered" by a single thrown plastic soda bottle. The cops sent a report on the arrested activists to the Chicago Gang Crime Unit. This showed, once again, that the police use their so-called "war on gangs" to illegally maintain records on political activists.

Meanwhile, the system's wrecking crews demolished the Brigade House. All the personal possessions in the house were trashed by the sheriffs. By afternoon on April 20, the house had been turned to rubble.

The Brigade House is gone. The ruthless police attack and the wrecking operation that followed brought tears of anger to many eyes that day. But in the destruction of this building, there had clearly been a powerful resistance to the plans of the system. This time, the city officials and their police stood exposed--in many eyes--as the hateful, greedy, racist swine that they are. This time the voice of the people had been heard--and the official media was unable to portray this destruction as "progress for the community."

It took nearly 50 police to evict five resisters. One activist wondered out loud: "How many would be needed for a whole building of hundreds? For a project filled with thousands standing strong?"

On May 1st, revolutionaries and other activists gathered where the Brigade House had been--some of them participating for the first time in the celebration of International Workers Day. They held high the red flag of revolution. They honored the campaign to "Draw the Line," and focused their sights on the struggles yet to come.

The city has seized another piece of Cabrini Green. But the people have their growing movement. And the future belongs to them.

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