In Chicago, the #LetUsBreathe Collective has transformed a lot adjacent to the Homan Square facility, exposed as a Chicago Police Department “black site” by The Guardian last year, into a beautiful organizing space aptly called Freedom Square. While the city continues to divest social resources from our communities, this site of torture has become a site of freedom and visionary love in a neighborhood that is over-policed and over-incarcerated. According to Million Dollar Blocks, North Lawndale committed nearly $241 million to incarceration in 2005-2009.
Following the Black Lives Matter march and civil disobedience at CPD’s Homan Square in Lawndale July 20, activists set up camp to continue the momentum and imagine a world without police by creating a collective space that embraces principles of love, justice, and solidarity. Volunteers, who staff the encampment around the clock, have organized a pantry, outdoor kitchen, art-making and learning stations, a library, play areas, and sleeping quarters. To serve the community, Freedom Square, provides free food, free books, and free political education. But in addition to these offerings, Freedom Square is also making concrete political demands that directly challenge police violence. Specifically, activists are calling for the CPD to provide the family of Pierre Loury, the young teenager who was killed by police, with the official police report. They are also demanding that the City Council’s Public Safety Committee recall the proposed Blue Lives Matter ordinance that would expand protections for police and make protesting a hate crime.
If, as Cornel West says, “justice is what love looks like in public,” then Freedom Square is an embodiment of practicing justice. Braving severe summer thunderstorms and the heat, activists have camped out for almost two weeks and plan to continue the occupation until their demands are met. Every day, Freedom Square provides food for hundreds of people and hosts community programs that have included an evening of storytelling by Free Street Theater, a yoga class, and art-making and writing workshops. Support and donations have poured in as organizers post updates on social media announcing needs ranging from breakfast foods and ice to daily trash removal and dish-washing.
As a space committed to radical transformation, Freedom Square invites collaboration with families of police violence as well as intra-community violence, survivors of police torture and brutality, and all community residents. In this spirit, the #LetUsBreathe collective recently released the following collaboration principles:
- Be Present. Freedom Square is a protest occupation holding space for community members impacted by and organizing against state violence and operates in direct opposition to Homan Square. Any partnership with Freedom Square begins with spending time at the camp and engaging the community we’re building in the name of freedom. We can always benefit from more human capacity; therefore, we invite your organization to send representatives to help operate the space as we work towards transforming ourselves and the world around us.
- Be Helpful. Building a village requires many skills, energies, and work styles. Our aim is to build systems and establish a foundation for creating a world built on love and restoration without prisons and police. Please help with food service or prep, youth engagement, activity and event programming, art creation and banner painting, space beautification, trash removal, dish washing, tent set up, or other investments of your gifts.
- Be Generous. Check our posts about daily supply needs and drop something off to the camp. Ice, charcoal, grillable meat and vegetables, water, plates, cups, plastic ware, and cleaning supplies are ongoing daily needs, but we often need other more specific things and publish a list every day on social media. We invite you to facilitate relationships that may lead to cash donations, but ask our collaborators not to raise money on behalf of Freedom Square unless explicit dialogue has crafted a radical approach to fundraising.
- Be transformed. Engage with Freedom Square as a space for radical transformation through loving relationship and community, a living, giving monument to what is possible through unity and cooperation. Use it as an opportunity to rethink habits and beliefs that affirm violence or repression.
These liberatory principles welcome and invite people into a new community-in-the-making where individuals are not only accountable to one another but also seen as actors who can both help transform the world and themselves. In the powerful words of revolutionary thinker Grace Lee Boggs, “We have to change ourselves in order to change the world.” With grace, imagination and courage, Freedom Square offers a glimpse into a new future and is boldly showing the world how to make Black lives matter.
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