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Jun. 1 2010 - 1:07 pm | 403 views | 1 recommendation | 7 comments

Activists interrupt yuppie dinner plans to talk about rats, mice and bedbugs in low-income housing

I felt like a secret agent, standing at the intersection of North, Milwaukee and Damen at nightfall Wednesday, waiting for something to happen. I glanced from side to side, wondering where the action might come from and when it would start.

A few seconds later, they arrived. A load of protesters on a bus, who started chanting as soon as they filed out of their seats.

“Slum landlords have got to go!” they shouted, taking over the sidewalk that surrounds the Wicker Park Tavern, a swanky bar in the Northside neighborhood owned by brothers Sam and Don Menetti.

Why were activists taking to the streets in this upscale neighborhood, outside a club? Well, the Menettis don’t just own a bunch of city bars – they also own the Lawrence House, a low-income apartment building in Uptown. The activists, from Organization for the North East and other housing organizations in Chicago,  were there to deliver a message to the Menettis: they say conditions there have been deteriorating for years and something needs to be done about it.

Tenants complain of vermin, pests, security problems and fire code violations. They’ve petitioned for repairs, but say they’ve gotten no answers.

They delivered a letter to the Menettis, but as you can see in the video (around 1:10), it was not well received. Sam Menetti threw the letter back in lead activist, Cory Muldoon’s face, and reportedly shouted, “I’m going to f*@& you up.” Later, Cory told me that a student reporter asked the Menetti brothers for comment, and they told them to tell Cory that if he was looking to get hurt, he was on the right track. ONE has since filed a police report.

It was one of the best protests I’ve ever been to for three reasons: it was fun, it was short, and it got to people who usually don’t give a damn about subsidized housing conditions.

It’s not that people who are well-off are heartless jerks who don’t care that others are suffering. Big hearts and grinches come in all colors, shapes, sizes and socioeconomic statuses. It’s just that when you’ve got a lovely condo and can afford to go out for dinner on a warm summer night, you forget about suffering because you’re not suffering.

And so protesters reminded them of it, in a space where they couldn’t escape. Surprisingly, people on the street and in the restaurant seemed genuinely interested in what was going on and didn’t react with anger.

Activists, yuppies, low-income communities – they all need each other. We need to share and hear the concerns of our neighbors and collaborate on solutions. People who have means and the ears of their elected officials need to know about the suffering that their neighbors are facing.

I’ll have more about what’s going on at Lawrence House and with other Menetti properties soon. Keep your eyes peeled for action.


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  1. collapse expand

    How many of those protesters live in the Lawrence House?

  2. collapse expand

    good! good idea
    need accountability

  3. collapse expand

    fantastic. please keep us updated!

  4. collapse expand

    I’m disturbed by property owners who use housing (usually converted into subsidized housing) as a placeholder for future gentrification. The property itself is an investment and the fewer resources the investor has to roll into the property the better. This seems to be the Menetti strategy. I’m glad to see that ONE is calling them out.

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    About Me

    I'm a journalist living in Chicago writing about poverty and public housing. I don't come from the streets - I grew up on a farm. But I'm passionate about urban issues and getting to know people who are completely different from me. I'm quirky, funny and friendly.

    I have this idea about journalism - that it should be approachable and less "newsy." I want my stories to make you laugh, cry and draw you in to neighborhoods and situations you don't deal with every day. I hate the broadcaster voice. I hate TV news. I hate the inverted pyramid. I love surprise. I love humor. I love people and telling their stories.

    In addition to being a journalist, I also teach dance for the Chicago Public Schools. I don't just do it for the money. I love children and love arts education. I'm also on the board of a new nonprofit dedicated to helping the underserved find jobs called Employing Hope. I write fiction, keep house, and am generally a renaissance woman.

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