CBA Coalition protest shuts down Cornell Drive during Thursday evening rush hour

Members of the CBA Coalition block traffic on the north side of the intersection of E. 63rd Street and S. Cornell Drive Thursday afternoon. (Photo by Marc Monaghan)

Staff writer

Scores of protesters from across Chicago blocked traffic on Cornell Drive in Jackson Park — just steps from the planned site of the Obama Presidential Center — during the Thursday evening rush hour, eliciting limited support and much frustration from motorists.

Chicago Police officers observed the protest but did not break it up, nor did they arrest anyone.

Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization executive director Jawanza Malone said as the protesters marched to the intersection from a rally at Hyde Park Academy High School, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave., that the plan was to halt traffic for a half hour. In the end, the protest took much less time — around 10 minutes.

“For the past 20 years, I have watched Chicago make promises to residents and communities that they have not kept,” said Ebonée Green with the Black Youth Project 100, one of many organizations that make up the CBA Coalition. “They do not keep promises if they do not keep legislation. We are here demanding legislation.”

Representatives of the CBA Coalition met with Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) and at least three members of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration — Deputy Mayor for Economic and Neighborhood Development Samir Mayekar, Chief Equity Officer Candace Moore and Deputy Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Tiffany Sanders Sostrin — on Aug. 28 to refine the affordable requirements ordinance (ARO) covering areas near the planned OPC site.

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) and Taylor introduced the CBA ordinance to City Council in July, but Hairston did not attend Wednesday’s meeting. In late August, she said that the matter will not come up for a City Council vote in September.

Taylor’s office did not return requests for comment about the meeting, and the CBA Coalition declined comment.

“We know that development is coming, but we demand that development happen on our terms,” Green said. “We create the rules for engagement in this community.”

She recalled the 30% affordable housing set-asides in the ARO and asked where residents would go without them, recalling the displacement caused by the Chicago Housing Authority’s “Plan for Transformation” in the early 2000s, which saw the demolition of its high-rise buildings.

“Only the people who pushed back and demanded action and policy are still able to stay in their communities. Everyone else was pushed out of the city,” Green said. “We refuse to be pushed out.”

“We are demanding legislation,” says Ebonee Green of Black Youth Project 100 during Thursday’s CBA Coalition rally outside Hyde Park Academy High School. (Photo by Marc Monaghan)

Motorists were puzzled when a line of north- and southbound vehicles stopped at a green light as protesters made their way to the intersection of Hayes and Cornell drives. Their mood quickly turned negative as honking horns sounded a nearly unbroken cacophony that lasted throughout the action.

Protesters formed a circle and joined hands. Some motorists exited their vehicles and yelled epithets at them. Many did not know what the protest was about, though Green said protesters distributed flyers to them.

Airickia Atwater-Potter, who lives in South Shore, expressed support for the CBA, though she wished she had known about the protest so as to have taken an alternate route.

“If they would have did it in the morning, I wouldn’t have minded being late for work,” she said. “But when it’s time to go home, people are ready to go home, tend to their families, get dinner or homework done.”

Another woman, however, exclaimed that she had to pick her kids up from school. Another complained that she did not live on the South Side. Another woman exited her car, approached protest organizers and screamed, “My kid’s got to go to the bathroom! Y’all need to move around!”

The protesters returned to Hyde Park Academy after the action, which Green characterized as a success.

“What I know that we did is we made our presence known in the community,” she said in an interview. “What I know that we’ve also accomplished is that we want to remind folks that it’s not just a small group of people, that we have a large coalition and that we’re continuing to be present.”

She acknowledged some motorists’ negative responses and empathized with them, saying she would be similarly confused in their position.

“But what I also know from experience is that we have to make a movement. We have to make a change,” said Green, who lives in South Shore. “I know what a disruption it is, but I also know in about a year and a half, that [Cornell Drive] is going to be closed off anyway, and a greater disruption is not being able to afford a home where you currently live.”

She asked the press to broadcast the message protesters send out, especially to those inconvenienced by the protest.