By AARON GETTINGER
WOODLAWN — The Chicago Police arrested two people Monday morning following a protest march from Hyde Park Academy High School to two University of Chicago sites currently under construction.
Kyana Butler and Alex Goldenberg were the only ones arrested from among about 75 protesters allied with the Obama Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) Coalition. The protesters’ destinations were the Woodlawn Residential and Dining Commons and the David M. Rubenstein Forum, two U. of C. sites south of the Midway Plaisance.
Protesters chanted anti-police and anti-U. of C. slogans alongside calls for a CBA with mechanisms to prevent displacement and enhance local economic development around the site of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC).
At the 6000 South block of Woodlawn Avenue, protesters chained the roadway closed as construction workers shuttered gates to the U. of C. sites.
“Housing is a human right,” said Sharon Payne, a 38-year Woodlawn resident. “To have worked all your life and get displaced because they want to put up a few new buildings is outrageous.”
“What are you going to do with all these people? Are you going to do us the way you did the people who lived along the State Street corridor?” asked Payne, referring to the displacement that accompanied the construction of the Dan Ryan Expressway in the late 1950s.
“Tear it down and throw them a piece of paper and put them out? Is that what’s going to happen to us?” she said. “We can’t afford to let that happen to us. We can’t afford to sit around and wait for elected officials to sit around and decide. We have to take matters into our own hands and get up and walk and do it ourselves.”
After Butler and Goldenberg were led off in a police van, Shannon Bennett with the Kenwood–Oakland Community Organization, a part of the Coalition, spoke to the movement’s long-term strategy.
He said the Coalition is the same one that brought about the U. of C. Medical Center’s trauma center and reopened Dyett High School for the Arts in Washington Park. “Those two alone should show you that we’re not people who’re going to go away easily, and we’re not people who look at what the broader society may say when they’re not really affected as much or people who are sometimes confused,” he said.
Gesturing to officers of the U. of C. and Chicago police forces before him, Bennett rhetorically asked if they could afford to live in Lincoln Park, once Chicago’s Puerto Rican barrio before gentrification drove residents to Humboldt Park. Bennett said gentrification goes up the income ladder and can affect those with higher incomes after it affects poorer people.
“It doesn’t take a million people to make something change,” he said. “We can make change with a small group [or] a large group.” He cited a 2017 study by Redfin, a real estate brokerage, showing that Woodlawn had a 23.3 percent growth in off-market home value, the third-highest nation increase in off-market home value compared to home values in its metropolitan area.
“People have to understand. They will never, ever have to agree, but the righteousness of our fight is what’s going to make us victorious,” Bennett said, adding that the Obama Foundation, U. of C. and city are “piecemealing” things. “It’s nowhere near what we want, but we see little things here, with different policies and things. The fact that they have to bring the president back and back and back — this thing is not done, for a variety of reasons, and it’s bigger than just the lawsuit.”
The Coalition is currently gathering signatures for an advisory referendum in certain precincts for the February municipal elections, which it hopes would move the City Council towards adopting a CBA ordinance.