Thursday, November 17, 2011

"To Lose the Clinics Would be a Way of Dying"

Over 100 people gathered for a "People's Budget Hearing" in the Chicago Temple at 77 W. Washington on Tuesday November 15. They were upset over the budget that the city was poised to pass, the first budget passed since Rahm Emmanuel was elected mayor. In particular the crowd was upset that the budget would close 6 of city's 12 mental health clinics, privatize all 7 city neighborhood health clinics and layoff over 150 workers from city department of public health.

"Does anyone see Rahm Emmanuel in the building?" the man at the podium asked. The crowd responded loudly, "No!"

"Because the mayor's not here, we have to go to him.... we need to make sure we get the attention of city hall and make sure that they understand that this is an important issue."

 The crowd marched across the street to city hall, and up to the the mayors office on the 5th floor. When they got there, a group of 10 or so was already sitting in front of the the mayors office wearing lab coats and signs that plead to keep the cities mental health clinics public and open.

Organizer Matt Ginsberg-Jaeckle told the police gathering around them, "We are here until the mayor comes. We won't let them close our clinics." Later he explained, "The only two ways we're leaving, is if they give us back our clinics, or take us away in handcuffs."

The crowd excitedly chanted, "no clinics, no votes" for several minutes.

The crowd then began to tell testimonies, using themselves as human microphones. People who relied on the clinics testified to how they had been impacted by the clinics and how they were terrified of what they would do if they were cut or privatized.

"It's a matter of expense for me, if Beverly Morgan park clinic is closed, I'll have to go to a private clinic and pay $15 a week. I don't have that money." One of those sitting in said.

Another one described her struggle with depression, "I know I will die if I don't go to my clinic. He (her therapist) means a lot to me because I have no where else to go. I have a family full of mental illness or other disabilities. So this really impacts me. It makes me so mad that I shake and get nervous because I can't deal with my life. I sit there and I cry and I panic and I think that suicide is the way out. And it's not the way out. So far I've made it and I know that this (the protest) is my calling."

Margaret Sullivan shouted from the floor in front of the mayor's office, "from 2003 - 2006 they (her clinic) calculated my medicines and kept me from committing suicide, for which I had a plan that included pills, Dramamine and a bathtub. I'm sure the new mayor doesn't care that I didn't die, but these people," she pointed to those sitting besides her, "these people do!"

Madonna Carter, described her three suicide attempts, and how she struggled with depression since she was 11 years old, "being able to be at the clinic has helped me not want to die every day. " She continued, "to lose the clinics would be a way of dying."

The rally was sponsored by many community, labor, and health groups, including AFSCME Council 31, SEIU Healthcare Illinois Indiana, SEIU Local 1, Illinois Single Payer Coalition, Mental Health Movement, Occupy Chicago, Southside Organizing for Power, and others.

Many in the crowd spoke. One person called the city's budget one for the 1%, not for the 99%. Another pointed out that the biggest mental health clinic in cook county is the cook county jail, as many of those without access to mental health clinics will end up in jail, costing tax payers even more than the clinics would have.

Another activist said that the police 'babysitting' the sit-in could be dealing with other criminals, like those at Lasalle and Jackson in the cities financial district who caused the economic crises.

After 10 hours, those who remained a part of the sit in were arrested by the police. While some alderman expressed regret that they clinics were not provided for in the budget, the budget was passed in a unanimous 50 to 0 vote.

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