A movement that began in the streets has graduated to 5,500 feet of Pilsen loft space.
This past week, Occupy Chicago officially moved into its new home off Cermak Road, just south of the loop. The organization will now legally occupy two units of converted loft space, which include bathrooms and kitchens as well as stunning views of the surrounding industrial corridor.
space will be used for “meetings, events, creating art and music,
educational teach-ins, generating literature and materials, and General
Assemblies,” according to the group’s press release. It will not be a
place for sleeping or rallying, common activities at the organization’s
former home on the downtown street corner of Jackson and LaSalle.
Members of the organization and its allies gathered in the new space on Friday to speak with the media about the importance of having a central location, as well as to publicize plans for various actions this spring. Over 25 local activists and organizers stood with signs and placards, while nearly that number of reporters and journalists wielded cameras, microphones, and pens to cover the event. In general, it will be Occupy Chicago’s stated policy not to allow members of the media into the loft except for special events such as Friday’s press conference.
“Welcome to Chicago -- the real Chicago,” Marissa Brown, a member of Occupy the Southside, told the group of visiting journalists.
Added Crystal Vance Guerra of Occupy el Barrio: “We are not just downtown [anymore]. We are everywhere.”
Speakers at the event represented nearly a dozen organizations and collectives, from Occupy outgrowths such as Occupy Rogers Park, Occupy the Dream, and Occupy Our Homes, to unions such as the National Nurses United (NNU) and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), to organizations with more specific causes, like the Coalition Against NATO/G8 War and Poverty Agenda (CANG8).
Although representatives from different groups emphasized different aspects of the issues facing the “99 percent” and made pitches for different events taking place in the coming months, all the speakers focused on unity of purpose.
“For too long, Chicago has been a city of neighborhoods divided, a city of causes divided...we [must] stand in solidarity with each other,” said Max Farrar of Occupy Chicago.
Martese Chism, a registered nurse and member of NNU, echoed the call for solidary: “We believe that either we go up together or we come down together. And we are not going down.”
Occupy Chicago’s decision to move into a permanent indoor space was motivated by practical as well as symbolic concerns.
Zoe Sigman, a member of the organization’s Housing Committee, said members first began looking for a space back in November, when the coming of winter made meeting outside more difficult.
“There was a distinct lack of spaces for us to organize in downtown,” said Sigman. “We were having meetings in McDonald’s and Panera.”
Though the new space is owned by
Occupy Chicago (funds donated to the group pay for rent), the
organization plans to use it as a central meeting place for its growing
umbrella of related and affiliated organizations.
“Having a centrally located hub for the movement will greatly enhance communication and collaboration between Occupations in Illinois and around the region,” said Occupy Chicago’s Micah Philbrook.
Here's a look at Occupy Chicago's new space:Created with flickr shildshow from softsea.
DeHais, who is on the organization’s Press Committee with Philbrook,
said the space would also allow people to interact face to face in a
safe environment. “I think having a base of operations will really help
people on a psychological level to feel comfortable,” said DeHais. And
she added, “I think it will give [Occupy Chicago] some credibility as an
Indeed, though the space met many practical needs, it was this sense of long-term legitimacy that seemed to inspire members of the expanding umbrella of Occupy organizations. For Marissa Brown, the move into the loft proved that “we are not only mature, logical, and unified people, but we are also here to stay.”
Crystal Vance Guerra framed the same sentiment in words that resonated back to previous non-violent protest movements: “We are telling the world with this space that we shall not be moved.”