Chicago Rising: This Year in Struggle

I wanted to write a piece about the most powerful moments in Chicago activism this year, but as I reviewed my photos and thought through what I saw and experienced in 2014, I realized that I can’t quite qualify things in those terms. As an organizer, I have a number of biases that are both undeniable and unavoidable, so I’m going to go ahead and clarify from the start that this is simply a look back at actions that moved me, changed me, or burned themselves into my memory – and in some cases, all three.

National Moment of Silence

(Photo: Kelly Hayes)(Photo: Kelly Hayes)

Chicago’s installment of the National Moment of Silence was an all hands on deck moment for the radical community in Chicago. Young people from BYP 100 took center stage with a heartbreaking and beautifully creative program, while activists from around the city rallied behind them. The profound show of love and solidarity that our community put forth that day produced one of the most powerful events I’ve attended in recent years, and I was grateful to be a part of it.

(Photo: Kelly Hayes)(Photo: Kelly Hayes)

Who Polices Cops

(Photo: Kelly Hayes)(Photo: Kelly Hayes)

“Who Polices Cops” was a small action, but to those present, and to me personally, a very important one. The action was put together by The Chicago Light Brigade and a group of young people who wanted to stage a show of solidarity with protestors in Ferguson. At that time, the Ferguson protestors were in their first month of rallies, marches, and actions following the death of Mike Brown. The message above was displayed from two elevated train platforms that night, one of which overlooked the popular Glenwood Avenue Arts Festival.

Chicago Stands with Gaza – Mass Protest and March

(Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)(Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)

It is impossible to encapsulate the power of last summer’s protests in support of the Palestinian people in a single post, let alone a single image, but given that this show of resistance must be honored, remembered, and carried forward, I’ve chosen this photo from the July 7th mass protest and march that drew thousands into the streetsto protest Israel’s brutal collective punishment of the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank. This snapshot of a wave of resistance in progress captures much of what was in the air during that time.

National Day of Action Against Police Brutality

(Photo: Kelly Hayes)(Photo: Kelly Hayes)

This effort, led by organizers from We Charge Genocide, Project NIA, and other local organizations was originally conceived of as a silent protest. While the event did include a powerful moment of silence, it also led to a moment of uproarious chanting when protestors charged past a police barricade. Upon reaching a second barricade, protestors confronted a row of police officers with words and imagery that challenged the violence of the state, and lifted up the names of those who fell to police violence this year.

(Photo: Kelly Hayes)(Photo: Kelly Hayes)

Sit-in to Save Dyett High School

(Photo: Kelly Hayes)(Photo: Kelly Hayes)

Protestors taking a stand against Chicago’s unelected school board’s efforts to starve and shut down Dyett High School took radical action on September 23rd of this year. Dyett supporters not only sat in at City Hall, but also took the unusual step of chaining themselves around a statue that sits outside the mayor’s office. The protest, which resulted in numerous arrests, also led to a number of the protestors’ demands being met, proving once again that direct action gets the goods.

Emergency Response to the Non Indictment of Darren Wilson

(Photo: Kelly Hayes)(Photo: Kelly Hayes)

This event was planned on a rolling basis, with props built and community members ready to mobilize on a moment’s notice for weeks. Quite unexpectedly, Marissa Alexander – a black woman who faced prosecution for firing a warning shot in defense of her own life – was forced to take a plea the same day that the grand jury returned it’s non indictment decision in the Darren Wilson case. News of Marissa’s plea expanded the subject matter of the protest, providing all those who bore witness yet another example of the state sanctioned disposability of black lives in the United States.

Mariame Kaba, one of the organizers of this event, wrote a brilliant description of the action that I consider a must read for anyone who wants to understand what happened that night.

After the speakers outside police headquarters concluded their program, the crowd initiated a march that ultimately shut down Lake Shore Drive before winding its way into the heart of downtown Chicago.

For Our Fallen

(Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)(Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)

This action, which I’ve written about previously, required the creation of over four hundred origami lilies which were lit from within by LED lights as a representation of each person lost to violence in Chicago this year, and the creation of 16 paper lanterns to represent Chicagoans killed by police in 2014. When the crowd lifted up the lights and flowers as a physical representation of their efforts to lift up the memories of those we had lost, I experienced a swell of emotions that I have no doubt will stay with me for years to come.

Slut Walk Chicago 2014

The 2014 installment of Slut Walk Chicago, organized by the feminist organization F.U.R.I.E., was a refreshing change of pace from the events of years past. Slut Walk marches have often been criticized for failing to honor the struggles of women of color and other marginalized communities. This year’s organizers made great progress in counteracting that legacy by staging a surprisingly militant, radically inclusive event that challenged the sexist, racist, and transphobic assumptions of our society. The march included a memorable stand off with police that is documented at 7:07 in the video above. That moment is a great reflection of the event’s character, and very much worth viewing.

Some other moments worth remembering…

Dyke March 2014

(Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)(Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)

BYP 100’s #BlackLivesMatter Sit-in at City Hall

(Photo: Kelly Hayes)(Photo: Kelly Hayes)

Trauma Center Now –Fearless Leading by the Youth

(Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)(Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)

Vigil for 43 Disappeared #Ayotzinapa Students

(Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)(Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)

Free the #NATO3

(Photo: Justin Bianchi)(Photo: Justin Bianchi)

#BlackLivesMatter Die-in at Union Station

(Photo: Kelly Hayes)(Photo: Kelly Hayes)

Mutual Aid in Action At Gale Elementary School

(Photo: Kelly Hayes)(Photo: Kelly Hayes)

I’m closing with this image from one of our mutual aid events at Gale Elementary because I think it’s important to remember that, depending on the context, acts of mutual aid can be a form of protest. In a society that denies our children safe learning conditions, challenging the policies that put our young people at risk by publicly working against those conditions is a form direct action, just as feeding the hungry to call attention to unchecked poverty is a form of direct action.

As activists and organizers, we live in opposition to that which is an affront to our humanity and our beliefs, and we do so while building both community and resistance. The event pictured above was part of a successful campaign to force the Chicago public school system to correct hazardous conditions at Gale. That victory should remind us all that our duty to fight cannot be separated from our duty to love and protect one another, and that together, we can win.