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The Wicker Park
Problem:

A Proposal
--David Meyers

Yes, the closing of Hot House, Urbus Orbis, and the Busy Bee is sad. Worthy of a funeral procession like the one held early in September during the Around the Coyote festival of property. Worthy of a movement to stem the flow of gentrification?
Imagine if you'd been born and grown up in Wicker Park, and every single candy store and restaurant you'd ever known had been shut down, demolished, torched, rehabbed, gentrified. Worthy of a funeral procession? Worthy of a movement to stem the land grab that destroys homes, families, whole communities.

Here is my proposal.

Whereas:
Even the healthy aspects of bohemianism have been fouled by the agenda of real estate developers, some politicians, and some lovers of art, transformed into a cog in the engine driving Latinos and other low-income people out of Wicker Park;
Opposition to gentrification by the artist and activist newcomers to Wicker Park has taken diverse and creative forms, but have been disconnected and somewhat isolated, and in retrospect ineffective;
Displacement of Latinos and others - including newcomer artists and activists - from Wicker Park continues, and we artists and activists are part of this process and therefore partly responsible;
Displacement is taking place in other areas in Chicago, and in cities across the country;
Gentrification is in large part a manifestation of racism, and to take part in racist movements is harmful not only to the displaced and marginalized, but to the displacer, who becomes overcome with the cynicism, apathy, and inhibited creativity that would threaten a truly vital arts community;
Effects of the current invasion of urban ghettos on low-income people mirrors the (continuing) decimation and displacement of Native Americans over the past two centuries, a decimation accomplished in fact by the westward movement of common pioneers and settlers, who allowed themselves to be used as pawns of government, the wealthy, and alligiance to the reprehensible practice of "white makes right";
Life without a sense of justice, freedom, and cultural integrity and autonomy becomes boring, deathly, oppressive, and in becoming pawns we have lost our own autonomy;
All people ought to have equal access to at least the minimum necessities of living, and gentrification denies one of those necessities, fair and equal housing;

And If:
Newcomer artists and activists have an interest in stemming the flow of a racist agenda;
Our declarations of love and appreciation of humanity and other cultures are to have any meaning;
Maintaining health, home, and social bonds are deemed to be as important for one set of people as for another;
We believe that racism and its local manifestation in gentrification are a bad business to be involved in, and that our indifference to the plights of others harms our own spirits and lives;
It is possible to put respect for others and their differences into practice on a more
comprehensive scale, and become a positive force in this area;

Then:
Those of us white, European-descended people and others living in the Wicker Park/West Town/Humboldt Park/Logan Square areas come together to form a group or a group of groups dedicated to acting in concert to challenge racism and its clearest local manifestation, gentrification. This can be an opportunity to take responsibility for our place and actions in the world, as well as
generate community spirit of our own;
Newcomer activists, artists, and individuals involved with Centro Sin Fronteras, Puerto Rican Cultural Center, Autonomous Zone, Anti-Racist Action, West Town Tenants Union and other organizations as well as independent or unaffiliated artists, activists and
concerned people meet and move to action. We all come from different places, have different ideas and talents; this doesn't need to inhibit action.
Of course, this can be a multiethnic grouping, as some people of color are in somewhat the same boat. To be real, though, the coloring of the Wicker Park invasion is 96% white.
This is a call to action, not further theorizing divorced from action.
I think it's important now to resist the urge to keep on moving on, into Humboldt Park, Pilsen, wherever, and say clearly, "NO. I will no longer be manipulated like a pawn in service of a racist agenda."
Sandpaper is considering hosting a forum to explore these possibilities in the near future [scheduled for May 8, 1999 at the Autonomous Zone]. If you want to participate, you can address suggestions and comments to Sandpaper at our mailing address or email chicory@mailcity.com.


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