Revision Street: Voices from the Whittier Elementary School Field House -- Lisa Angonese (II)

October 5, 2010


A librarian at the occupied field house checks out a book. (photo by Sarah-Ji)

Yesterday, the Chicago Public Schools made another aggressive move to oust the women occupying the Whittier Dual Language Elementary School field house by convincing People’s Gas (usually I’d make a crack about the name, here, but today it just strikes me as deeply ironic) to shut off heat and hot water for the building.

Last night, the Pilsen community continued to offer support for the occupation, this time in the way of blankets. A party was held, to celebrate a wedding anniversary. A cake appeared; books from the ever-growing library were read. The occupation continued, unabated.

This morning the women at Whittier celebrate three weeks at La Casita. That’s three times longer than the week-long workers occupation of Republic Windows and Doors, a sit-in that had the support of an international network of labor unions and organizations, involved close to 20 times as many participants, and resulted in a $1.75 million payout agreement. But this crew isn’t asking for quite so much, as Lisa Angonese is telling me.

Do you know what it might cost the cash-strapped Chicago Public Schools system to renovate La Casita instead of demolish it?

We haven’t gotten a cost estimate for the library, but for the demolition it was $354,000 to demolish the building. Using all that money to demolish the building is such a waste. They could use that money, Solis, Huberman, Mr. Ron Huberman could use that money to build up the property and make it flourish for these children. Reading is essential in every child’s education, so I just can’t see how they want Whittier to go without a library, and be in a situation where—I mean, you don’t know, there could people be throwing rocks through the window here at Whittier. If they see everything going down, down, down, pretty soon the school would close. What we want to do is bring it up. Bring it up and improve, so that more children can come to the school, they can benefit from the school. They’d say, What a nice campus this is, to play, to learn, to read, and the whole community can be involved.

Your children go to school here?

My daughter, Giana, is in 6th grade, and my son, Michael, is in 7th.

They just started a couple weeks ago?

Yeah.

And do you live nearby?

I’ve been—it’ll be a year in February—so I’ve been here, oh, for about 11 months, maybe 10 months. So we’re brand new here. My children were getting bussed—I’m a low-income parent, and a single parent, so we have an apartment, and they were being bussed to the school in Humboldt Park. Now, they can come to school where it’s convenient for them. We also have other amenities in the neighborhood, there’s stores in the neighborhood, businesses in the neighborhood, this neighborhood really does have a lot to say for itself.

Is there a library in the neighborhood?

There is one at right down on Loomis, a Chicago Public Library, which has been under construction all summer. Closed at first one month, then another notice, two months, finally I think this is about the third month the library has been closed.

The children have had no place to go to study. We have no computer. They’ve felt slighted because of it. But the kids could have just come here, walked out the back door, had plenty of books to read, and tutoring. This is for a learning advantage for the children, this is for growth advantage, to realize that working together we can make this a brighter community. My daughter is just all gang-busters about it.

I suppose we’ll go back to life as normal next week, but the whole thing is, we don’t live far and we’ll be here every day, working for the cause. Whether it be painting, or doing signs, or whatever that we need to do to make this a workable building.

What are you doing to the building?

We were thinking about, and we want to paint. We’re not professional painters, so we’re thinking, talking to people, How are we going to do this? Well, the paint is a little bit chipped, as it is with a lot of old buildings, so we’re first scraping. We have to buy several scrapers so that all of our hands, our working-hands, could be there to scrape all around the building, all of the loose paint. And then we have the white paint, which we’re going to put all over the whole building first, base white. And then if the kids want to add color or whatever, that would be added on after. So we are going for it to make this a very colorful building, and something that the kids will be excited to enter every time they see it.

So you’re just building the library?

Yes we are. With our own hands.

We never believed that we would have so much trouble going about this, and to me it seems ridiculous that we have to fight so hard to get a library built here.