Chicago Activists Throw Block Party Against Austerity

"When public services are under attack, what do we do ? Stand up, fight back."

About 125 activists marched from Chase Park to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's house near Hellen Zatterberg Park in Chicago, Ill. on Thursday, July 4 to protest the closing of 54 public schools this year. This protest is in conjunction with the closing of 6 out of 12 mental health facilities across the city last year, along with the allocation of TIF funds to a new Hyatt development in Hyde Park.

Although protesters were aplenty, there were outsiders too. Jerry Boyle, a veteran member of the National Lawyers Guild Chicago, was on-site as part of the legal observer program. Jerry was inconspicuously dressed in a neon yellow hat and britches, holding a to-go coffee mug like a life preserver among the sea of picket signs.

"We're radical lawyers, we're not part of the protest. We're like the ACLU, except we won't represent right-wingers. We basically have to agree with what we're arguing."

And argue people did. "We need teachers in the hall, not a stadium for DePaul!" This chant echoed Ashley's sentiments. A DePaul University philosophy professor with cropped turquoise hair, Ashley looked more like a graduate student than a faculty member. When at 12:30, the march had not yet started, she said: "The first two rules of activism are don't show up on time, and bring lots of snacks."

Ashley was part of a mass arrest during the Occupy Chicago movement two years ago. The arrest was based on an infraction, which is less than a misdemeanor or a felony. The police put Ashley and over 300 other people in holding cells for 12-14 hours without access to medications, food, water, or other basic amenities. Although they weren't allowed a phone call, the police finally released them thanks to emergency representation from the National Lawyers Guild.

Joining the crowd was N'Dana, a strong proponent of keeping Chicago mental health facilities intact. She said that in addition to 50% of the city's mental health centers now being defunct, Mayor Emanuel has closed 3 of the 9 that were supposed to replace them. To make matters worse, N'Dana says that the city fired all of the black counselors in the system.

What was supposed to be a single-file line turned into a serpentine crowd that ambled leisurely along with picket signs and pride. People strolled, rather than marched, down Ashland Ave. with a "power to the people" song blasting on the stereo, the quintessential activism soundtrack.

Although policemen lined the streets, none of them gave comment on the event. With no arrests or violence, the "block party against austerity" was jubilant yet jarring, proving that protesters still have a long road ahead of them in suggesting a viable alternative to Rahm Emanuel's budget cuts.