Occupy Chicago: Bridging the Gap

The six-month-old Occupy Movement in Chicago seemed to have gone into hibernation, but it is back for action with the arrival of spring.

Reinvigorated by the upcoming NATO summit in May, Occupy Chicago is arranging itself to deliver serious civil participation and vocalized dissatisfaction this summer. Though not entirely dissipated, Occupy Chicago was relatively quiet over the winter. Reemerging with fervor, “Take the Spring” served as a kickoff for the next two months of action that will culminate in protests against the upcoming NATO summit.

Previously condemned as an unorganized affront lacking a clear goal, Occupy Chicago has taken significant strides in reorganization, creating over 24 committees including coordination, housing, spiritual affairs, labor, and donations. Taking note of past criticisms of the overall Occupy movement, Occupy Chicago delivered a structured, well thought out, and highly visible program through “Take the Spring,” including various teach-ins and forums across the city, a rally and march through downtown Chicago, a festival set to celebrate the diversity of the Occupy Chicago coalition, and it’s first outdoor General Assembly since 2011. At its highest participation the event reportedly saw 2,000 participants with supporting bodies including Food Not Bombs, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Rainbow PUSH, and the South Austin Coalition.

Occupy Chicago has gained strength and numbers, providing a supportive presence in the fight against numerous local issues across Chicago. Partnering with other local movements, Occupy Chicago and other organizing bodies are currently collaborating with the Chicago Mental Health Movement in Woodlawn to prevent the closure of six of Chicago's twelve mental health clinics. Protestors have occupied the Woodlawn Mental Health Clinic since mid-April, facing arrests and harsh climates. Most recently, on April 23rd, ten protestors at the Woodlawn site were arrested, the second set of arrests to be made after 23 protesters were arrested the week before. Protestors claim they appealed in every manner made available to them through the city, asking for budget cuts to be made elsewhere and all twelve clinics to remain fully funded and fully staffed, but with no resolution.

The closures are a facet of the city’s newest attempt at increasing Chicago’s public health. In recent weeks, the City of Chicago's Department of Public Health (CDPH) announced that in conjunction with the closures, community mental health providers were to be provided with an additional $500,000 to expand citywide services. CDPH Commissioner Dr. Bechara Choucair praises the allotment explaining, “These funds will provide access to psychiatric services to over 1,000 more persons.” Although protests abound, city officials justify the closures as a move toward progress and accessibility for mental health care. According to Dr. Carl Bell, President/CEO of the Community Mental Health Council saying, “These changes are long overdue.”

Opponents to the closures claim that the provisions are instead a distraction from the fact that this shift will create more active partnerships with private service providers, limiting access for those who are uninsured, leaving them untreated and unhealthy. Although city officials claim that the closures will not exclude patients from accessing care and services, operational questions must be explored. Assuming services will in no way be disrupted, a claim difficult to support in light of Chicago’s history of mental health facility closures, transportation access to clinics will serve as a significant barrier for clients’ ability to access care. Limiting the number of service locations requires its clientele, already a vulnerable population, to travel further distances at a greater cost.

The sad reality is that mental health and related issues are often masked in our society, frequently not covered by insurers or not considered a legitimate health concern. According to the Center for Disease Control’s Hospital Discharge Survey of 2009, nearly 1.6mn hospital inpatients are discharged with psychoses as their first-listed diagnosis. Of those discharged, 292,000 were diagnosed with schizophrenic disorders. Mental health disorders are both debilitating and potentially life-threatening with patients who are left untreated, by no fault of their own, often being a threat to themselves or to others.

Similar to the invisibility of these issues, there are multiple stakeholders who would prefer to conceal the widening class gap in the United States. There is reasonable speculation as to whether the Occupy Movement has indeed structured itself into an organized body capable of outlining specified goals and objectives. The inclusion of diverse perspectives can often increase difficulty in reaching consensus. However, no matter one's stance on the disparity between the 99% and the 1%, or the Occupy movement's capability of achieving change, one thing is for certain: there is a gap in communication between civic need and governmental response in the city of Chicago -- A gap that Occupy Chicago intends to close.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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