Since Wednesday Sept. 15, parents of students at Chicago’s Whittier Public Elementary School have occupied a school field house (“La Casita”) that they are demanding be turned into a library. The City has condemned the building and seeks to demolish it – possibly to turn the lot into a soccer field for a nearby private school.
About 15-20 parents are involved in the sit in. Their demands are that they will not leave the structure until CPS agrees to build a library. The protest has gained momentum through the support of laid off Chicago Public Schools teachers, the Chicago Teachers Union, and supporters across the Chicago area.
The demolition will cost the Chicago Public Schools over $350,000, while turning the field house into a library will only cost around $25,000. The school has no library, and the field house has been used by students to study, receive ESL instruction, access the internet and get books. The field house, located in the Latino neighborhood of Pilsen, was also used to provide programs for parents to get more involved in their children’s education.
On Friday, Sept. 17, the police barricaded the field house until the protesters, chanting “¡Biblioteca si, demolición no!”and “¡Queremos Biblioteca!,” successfully pushed through the barricade. Supporters poured into the field house, forcing the police to remove the barricade altogether.
When school liaison Sgt. Ramone Ferrer forced open the door to La Casita, Pilsen resident and Whittier mother Gema Gaeta stood up against the siege. “Why are you treating us like criminals?” she exclaimed. Since then, the Whittier parents and their supporters have continued to fight back against the City’s assault.
Manuel, father of three children at Whittier, told Liberation, “We use the building for activities like arts and crafts, tutoring, ESL, GED classes and cooking. We have been trying to get a library going back years.”
Liberation also interviewed one 6th grade Whittier student named Giana. When asked what she would say to Chicago Public Schools in response to the campaign, she responded: “Wake up CPS! People need this library so that we have a place to do our homework. … I can envision a library where we can study, learn and play.”
Giana’s mother told Liberation: “It’s amazing that the politicians would rather demolish this building than help our children.”
The parents maintain that they do not even need the local government’s help in fixing up La Casita; they are willing to do it themselves so long as the building is not demolished. The parents have collected donations to fix the building up, including books, paint, curtains, and other supplies.
PSL and the ANSWER Coalition had volunteers down at the field house to support the struggle. They also donated supplies to the families, like toilet paper and paper towels. Leaflets were also distributed with information about the mass march on October 16. We in the PSL stand in solidarity with the Whittier students, their families, the residents of Pilsen and all people fighting for the services that we so sorely need in this time of economic crisis.