Below are the remarks given by Neighbors for Affordable Housing founding member Danielle Bridges at the "Portage and Jefferson Parks Unite for Black Lives" demonstration on June 12th, 2020.
My name is Danielle, and I would like to tell you a little bit about myself
I am a longtime resident of Jefferson Park; I have lived here my entire adult life. I grew up in Evanston, Illinois, just north east of here.
I’m here as an educator, a believer in racial equality and social justice-- these things go hand in hand.
I became active in the neighborhood back in 2017, when there was a proposal to build an affordable housing development in our community. I teamed up with neighbors to form a group called Neighbors for Affordable Housing. Over the course of an 18 month campaign, we fought to bring this much-needed housing to our neighborhood. Quickly we realized that we were fighting against something - the racism of some of our neighbors who wanted to keep people out. Their anger, their attitude, and their ignorance was--to me-- clearly steeped in the racist history of our city.
I couldn’t just sit by and let this define our community, and not do something. It was hard: I saw neighbors posts online and heard them yell slurs; I had my sense of belonging to this community doubted and challenged in public. I had my social media scoured for evidence of my humanity, members of my family made into targets.
But here’s the big news. We won. Just down the block, at 5150 NW highway, right across from the Police station that we’re about to march to, a building is now under construction--a building that will bring 75 units of new affordable housing to our neighborhood--for people of all backgrounds who have a need.
To win that fight, we didn’t just show up to one rally. We went to City Hall dozens of time, sat in meetings with our neighbors, strategized with other groups around town-- and this was all necessary because the opponents and their buddies in the City Council were determined to keep old patterns of racial segregation in place. At the beginning, every time, the opposition outnumbered us, but by the end, we outnumbered them, and our voices prevailed. I say this just to remind everyone here, that what we do today needs to be followed by SUSTAINED civic activity. We have to participate in our local government and politics.
I also want to stress that feelings and attitudes are not enough. Of course, we should all strive to be more decent to one another, to seek opportunities to recognize each other’s full dignity and humanity-- whether they are our neighbors living in bungalow in Jefferson Park, or our neighbors in public housing on the far South Side of the city, or our neighbors sleeping right here outside the transit center.
That game is real estate. That game is housing. It's impossible to enact or carry out extreme forms of oppression and injustice on any group except by physically segregating them first. The history of how politicians and developers carved up, segregated, and underdeveloped our city, and then sent the cops in to sweep up the mess--- That’s the history of where this racism comes from and how it lives on all around us If we don’t fight the injustices of housing, we won’t have a shot at ending the crisis of police brutality.
Right now on the Northwest Side, there are many of us aggressively fighting for more affordable housing, more open housing, more accessible housing in our communities. Other neighborhoods have shied away from the need to build more integrated, affordable housing, but we are standing up, stepping up, and you all should join us today. If you care about racism, the fight for housing justice is fundamental. There is no end to the policing crisis unless our city’s landscape of racial inequity is transformed.
If you haven’t already, be sure to get one of our cards going around, and visit our website to sign up and get involved at neighborsforaffordablehousing.org.