For more than a week, a coalition of Chicago activists including patients and staff from the Woodlawn Mental Health Clinic, representatives from the Mental Health Movement, STOP Chicago, and Occupy Chicago have been protesting the closure of six mental health care facilities as part of austere city budget cuts. In order to save a reported $2.3 million, the city has already closed two neighborhood clinics, and plans to shut down an additional four. Officials argue that by shutting down these facilities, they will be able to restructure and provide more options for consumers and say they’ve invested $500,000 already in expanding services for psychiatric care and plan to increase access to services. Such measures are a kick to the guts of the people most in urgent need of mental health care. Those most wholly affected by this are poor, held hostage by not only their health needs but limited access to funding for care. Two patients from one of the closed clinics are currently in psychiatric hospitalization because they entered crisis after its closure, according to N’Dana Carter, an activist with Mental Health Movement.
Caregivers, patients and activists know that shutting down public neighborhood clinics will have disastrous effects on people receiving services. Mental well-being is essential to human health. Not one person in Chicago remains unaffected by mental health issues: depression, bipolar disorder, panic attacksm anxiety disorder, PTSD, schizophrenia, insomnia or hypersomnia, and anhedonia, among many others affect a huge portion of the population. Everyone has been heartbroken by the behavior of someone who needs mental health services. The availability of mental health care is an issue that crosses all class and race lines. It is a crucial human service. Mayor Rahm Emanuel seems to be determined, with little research or apparent forethought, to value NATO security funding, flowers in parks, and the 1% Lakefront Trail to Nowhere more than the well being of the very citizens who elected him to office.
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Though the Mental Health Movement and their allies made hundreds of phone calls, delivered petitions signed with thousands of names and staged a sit-in at Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office at City Hall until being removed, their words fell on deaf ears. With most other options exhausted, 23 doctors, nurses, mental health patients, medics, and Occupy Chicago members decided to barricade themselves inside one of the clinics slated for closure last week to force the city to listen to their demands. Hundreds gathered outside in solidarity to support them. Soon after Chicago Police arrested those inside, protesters set up an encampment outdoors across the street from the clinic in order to continue their fight. From Saturday, April 14 until the wee hours of Tuesday, April 17, the vacant lot was alive with music, dancing, children’s laughter, sidewalk murals, and educational sharing that created a greater sense of understanding, sharing, and community building in the long shadow of austerity. In the rain and high winds, campers remained in spirited involvement, dedicated to their cause.
In establishing a camp, there are always a million details to handle. Fortunately, the nature of the conflict binds people together for the greater good and cause. The sense of community and family was as real as the droplets of rain running down ponchos, the heat from the bonfire, and as real as the arms of activists wrapped around each other in joy. An amazing moment of realization comes when a tent goes up, when a stake is pounded into the fat black heart of a cold city run by a man who doesn’t care about his constituents, that there’s a better world. We can establish a parallel society where we take care of one another and people are valued more than securing a hegemonic guard dog system or tulips.
That feeling lasted at least, until 2:00 am on Tuesday morning, when Chicago police cleared the encampment and confiscated the tents belonging to demonstrators, threatening more arrests. Police presented a complaint from the Woodlawn Community Development Corporation, who claimed they owned the vacant lot the encampment was built on. After a search at the Cook County Recorder of Deeds Office, it was discovered that the WCDC does not in fact, own the land and the eviction was in fact, illegal. This did not stop police from clearing the camp however. Undeterred, protesters continued their demonstration on the sidewalk and slept in or on top of cars draped in their banners and signs. They say their fight will continue until their voices are heard and demands met. In a press release, Linda Hatcher, a patient of the clinic and one of the 23 arrested at the first action, said “We are not going to be turned around. This is a question of life and death for us and we will not give up the fight.”