Occupiers find new home

By Aviva Einhorn

After months of upholding a movement without an official space, Occupy Chicago has established a permanent headquarters in the Pilsen neighborhood.

Occupy Chicago moved into two units at 500 W. Cermak Road Jan. 20. The units have 3,100 and 2,489 square feet of space that will be used to organize meetings and events. However, it will not be used as a place for sleeping or for rallies.

According to Joshua Kaunert, an Occupy Chicago press committee member, the location and accessibility of the space were both important factors in choosing the building.

“The space in Pilsen was the most amicable to having us occupy there,” Kaunert said. “We’ve had a lot of people on the housing committee working hard to find a space that not only met our needs but that didn’t have a problem with Occupy conducting general assemblies, working and

organizing there.”

Kaunert said having an official meeting space has made organizing easier. Before having the office space, they met in small groups at random locations throughout the city, which put a strain on coordination among different committees.

“One of the biggest benefits to having a space is that it allows us to consolidate planning and to all meet together in the same spot,” Kaunert said. “It’s allowed us to be much more productive. Even when we were conducting [general] assemblies at Jackson [Boulevard] and LaSalle [Street], things were more divided.”

According to Kaunert, money for the lease came from Occupy Chicago’s donation fund and an anonymous benefactor. Donations are collected by the 8th Day Center for Justice, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization composed of Catholic congregations, or through the Occupy Chicago website.

“The lease holders right now hold the keys to the space, but we don’t want to infer that there is anyone ‘in charge,’” Kaunert said. “Everyone who works for Occupy Chicago is a volunteer. We are all at the same level, and everyone is welcome to the space.”

According to Rachael Perrotta, another Occupy Chicago press committee member, the group is thrilled to have the new location and is enjoying the benefits of having an official space.

“It’s been spectacular to have all of the committees in the same place,” Perrotta said. “A lot of our members are on more than one committee, and all we have to do now

to communicate within the committees is run across the room to talk to them.”

Located near the border of Pilsen and Chinatown, the new building is conducive to collaboration with neighborhood movements such as Occupy el Barrio, a branch of the Occupy movement based in Pilsen that focuses on immigrant and Latino rights.

Crystal Vance Guerra, an activist and committee member of both Occupy branches, said she is happy about the prospects the new space allows for.

“There’s a lot of work to be done downtown, but it’s not the easiest or most approachable of locations,” Guerra said. “There’s something wonderful about being in a neighborhood where you’re surrounded by a community and able to interact and collaborate with the very people that we’re all fighting for. Now we’re in a neighborhood, and it’s a more residential area than where we were in the loop.”

10 Occupy Chicago activists agree that having a new space allows for better collaboration and opens the movement up to more Chicago neighborhoods and other branches.

According to Kaunert, the main focus of Occupy Chicago is currently the upcoming NATO and G8 summits coming to the city in May.

“We’re really focusing on ‘Chicago Spring’ and the actions that are going to take place when the summits arrive, but we’re still in the early phases of the planning,”

Kaunert said. On Jan. 25, Adbusters, the group responsible for organizing the initial Occupy Wall Street protest, posted on its blog that they are planning a month-long international occupation of Chicago May 1 that could potentially bring 150,000 people to the city.

Kaunert said he was unable to further expand on Occupy’s plans for the summits, as they do not yet know whether or not they will be participating in Adbusters’ protest.