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Liveblog from Chicago Spring: Woodlawn Mental Health Protest

Yesterday at the Woodlawn Health Fair at the occupation site across from the Woodlawn Mental Health clinic, one of the community members protesting its closure call the protest the “Birmingham of the mental health movement”. The closure of six of the twelve City of Chicago’s mental health clinics, forcing most patients to travel long distances by transit and to walk through unfamiliar neighborhoods, has produced a city-wide protest movement that is focused at the Woodlawn occupation.

The occupation cannot have tents, and people have been arrested for putting up tents. The occupation consists of 24-7 set up of tabling of literature about the protest, tables of donated food, blankets, and clothing, and a 24-7 occupation by a van with a sign “Save our Mental Health Clinics”. At night, folks sleep in the van and in cars. The Chicago Police Department has one round-the-clock patrol car stationed opposite the occupation site.

Today, a busload of protesters will protesting a various locations in the Loop. I will liveblog the events of today.

5:30 pm The press conference started at 5:00 pm and was tolerated because of the presence of the large number of local media. At 5:30 pm, after Horace, a clinic patient in a walker who has been arrested multiple times in sit-ins about the clinic, made a statement that he was willing to be arrested as many times as necessary to save the clinics and provide healthcare to the communities. Then, a number of clinic patients rushed the mayor’s office door seeking to get in; six were arrested.

Chicago Trip 086

There were a total of seven arrests over the day with one person, the first arrested, remaining in custody at least overnight. As the protest moved from picketing to the press conference, the wooden doors of the mayors office, which are behind the glass doors, were opened to present the image of an “open door” policy.

Considering the number of press there and the dual press conferences – inside in front of the mayor’s office for patients and supporters and outside for clinic staff and Illinois Nurses Association representatives, the protest was successful in drawing coverage. How much coverage got on the air was not known at the time of last night’s debriefing.

4:48 pmThe sit-in continues in the hall in front of the mayor’s office. A Chicago Police Department officer is standing directly in front of the mayor’s office. The City Hall closes officially at 5 pm; likely some of the protesters will insist on remaining sitting in.

1:30 pmWhile I was recharging batteries, a separate action occupied Rahm Emmanuel’s office as a sit-in. Already there is a report of one arrest.

Outside City Hall

12:00 noon: After folks from others of the six clinics scheduled to be closed joined the Woodlawn protesters, the group marched from Obama headquarters to the Thompson State Office building. Protesters handed out flyers telling about the protest and the closing of the clinics. Then the protesters entered the State Office Building rotunda with their banners and their flags.


10:55 am: The protesters call ahead to Obama campaign headquarters to ask for a representative to come downstairs and receive a letter to President Obama. The campaign staff told them that no one would come down, that they would not receive a letter, and they could contact the President through the White House email. After briefly considering the possibility of going to the Chicago Public Library and using library computers to write emails to the President, the protesters decided to protest at Obama headquarters and write emails and make phone calls later today.


Update From the debriefing last night at the Woodlawn Mental Health Clinic occupation, the Obama campaign headquarters was finally embarrassed enough at the protest to send a flunky downstairs to escort two of the local Woodlawn protesters upstairs for a “we understand your issues” stroking. The folks who went upstairs have three years of experience with this kind of brushoff and were not impressed at all.

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