Mental health advocates’ voices went unheard until last night’s dramatic occupation of the Woodlawn clinic by patients and members of Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP) by padlocking doors and barricading themselves in the facility. They demanded an audience with Mayor Rahm Emanuel for months when following the announcement that six mental health clinics would close for city budget reasons. The occupation ultimately ended well after midnight with 23 arrests for trespassing
The clinic, located on Chicago’s south side neighborhood of Woodlawn, is schedule for closure at the end of the month while others have already shuttered their doors. The mayor’s office claimed the closures were an attempt to reign in city spending and private sector clinic would continue providing proper services.
“We have tried everything we could to be heard,” said N’Dana Carter, a city clinic patient and advocate, in a statement. “We visited Mayor Emanuel when he was a candidate. We delivered him over 4,000 letters. We have talked to almost all 50 Alderman. We have held press conferences, rallies and even sat-in for 10 hours on the 5th floor of City Hall. We are the ones who know the disaster these clinic closures will mean for our communities and our city but Mayor Emanuel been unwilling to listen to us, so we are taking drastic measures to avoid a tragedy and defend our human rights.”
With doors locked, barricades up, and police on the scene, the advocates released a set of five demands.
-Keep all 12 city mental health clinics public, open, fully funded and fully staffed
-Stop plans to privatize Chicago’s 7 neighborhood health centers
-Hire more doctors, therapists, nurses, social workers and other clinic staff
-Reinstate the drug assistance program
-Expand the public mental health safety net to cover unmet community needs
The mayor did not meet these demands, he focused his attention on the Chicago Blackhawks game during the ordeal, instead police used chainsaws to get through the padlocks and started to arrest the occupiers. Eleven of the 23 were released, according to the CPD News Desk, without charges. The other 12 will face misdemeanor charges of trespassing. Yet, you can see Chicago police scuffling with the protesters.
According to the local ABC station’s Jessica D’Onofrio:
The commissioner for the Department of Public Health says the city has met with protesters more than a dozen times in the past and heard their concerns. The commissioner says all of the people who need care will continue to have access to quality care with the reforms that are planned.
This ignores that half of the clinics will close, from 12 to six, and many are in the poorest of areas. It also shows the disturbing set of priorities for the mayor and his administration. The closure of the six clinics saves $2.3 million yet Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart hits the nail on the head.
“Reductions in funding for the mentally ill have made Cook County Jail the largest mental health provider in Illinois.”
This sickening budget move only forces the burden on the county jails and ultimately the county taxpayers. It would be nice to see Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle say something along those same lines. The county also faces a budget deficit and the city is only trying to pass it off to her. More so, where are the political leaders on this? Why do local elected officials not support the mental health movement in regards to the clinic closures? Rahm wields tons of power, as evidenced by a unanimous vote for his budget that included the closures.
Advocates made a bold move Thursday night. They put themselves on the line through a creative act of civil disobedience. Yet, the clinic closes in less than three weeks. There is still time to continue shaming and pushing the mayor’s office into some sort of compromise. They damn near put the ball in his court with the occupation of the Woodlawn clinic. I have a feeling STOP will have more happen in the coming days to press Rahm into an uncomfortable position.
It might help if he watched this video too.
© Aaron Krager 2008-2013 | Have any questions? Send me an email.