A Nonprofit-Led Sit-in Stands Up . . . Temporarily

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November 19, 2011; Source: Chicago News CooperativeEven in this era of Occupy Wall Street, it is still uncommon to find news stories about unsuccessful citizen protest movements. In a recent story, the Chicago News Cooperative highlighted the advocacy work of the Chicago-based organization STOP, Southside Together Organizing for Power and discovered that after a sit-in at the mayor’s office last week failed to prevent a vote to close six of the city’s public mental health clinics, the “undeterred” organization is now looking to boost its coalition base in preparation for a December City Council meeting. 

According to the story, STOP last employed a sit-in protest in 2009 in opposition to Mayor Richard M. Daley’s budget cuts to mental health clinics, and was successful. A 10-hour sit-in outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office last Tuesday failed however, when the City Council passed a unanimous vote to close a $3 million city budget gap that included the zeroing out of six mental health clinics. 

As a next step, the News Cooperative reports that STOP is currently working to build coalitions with local and national labor unions, health care organizations, and other advocacy groups, and is planning to submit a budget amendment at the City Council’s next meeting. Describing the eight-year old organization as both “stubborn and diverse,” the story notes that STOP’s membership includes “University of Chicago students and graduates, residents of a low-income housing development, clients of the mental health clinics and area teenagers.” 

The News Cooperative story emphasizes the careful planning and choreography that went into last week’s protest, and notes that STOP briefed all participants beforehand on the “do’s and don’t’s of nonviolent protest.” In anticipation of the next stage of this campaign, STOP will likely have to juggle the dual challenges of maintaining the momentum grained by participants who have already invested time and energy in the effort while still appealing to new entities. Still, the News Cooperative story suggests that STOP has energy on its side. As N’Dana Carter, a protester in last week’s sit-in said, “We don’t plan to go away.” —Anne Eigeman