CHICAGO — Inspired by protesters in Portland, Oregon, a new group of mothers in the Chicago area plans to offer a human wall of protection for those protesting police brutality and broader racism.
Moms attracted widespread media coverage last weekend when they linked arms at Black Lives Matters protests in Portland, and got sprayed with tear gas and pushed away by federal agents who said they were protecting the courthouse.
Following that example, Wall of Moms Chicago attracted more than 5,000 members on Facebook in its first days of existence this week.
Group members said they do not organize protests, but join those led by Black, Indigenous and people of color (abbreviated as BIPOC).Organizers said the group will be nonviolent and will wear yellow clothing, bike helmets and the word “mom.”
On its Facebook page, organizer Katje Lilith Sabin, of Rogers Park, earlier this week announced, “IT’S GO TIME!”
The group has planned its first collaboration for Saturday afternoon in Grant Park with Tikkun Chai International, whose president, Rabbi Michael Ben Yosef, welcomed the support at an event that will call for defunding police.
Yosef emphasized that it will be a peaceful event, unlike last weekend’s demonstration at the Christopher Columbus statute in Grant Park, which devolved into violence.
“It’s a brilliant idea,” he said of the moms group. “It helps to show diversity and to show the world we can get along and coexist in a world that seems to be decaying in craziness.”
The moms’ entry into the political arena comes as the streets have recently become more dangerous.
Chicago police Superintendent David Brown said that a small group of “agitators” hijacked a July 17 peaceful protest by thousands in Grant Park, throwing frozen water bottles and rocks, and injuring some 49 police officers.
The “mob” tried to tear down the statue, he said.
Video of that clash also appeared to show an officer striking a female protester in the face, knocking out at least one of her teeth, resulting in one of more than 20 complaints filed against police.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot temporarily removed two Columbus statues, including the one at Grant Park, early Friday.
Activists, angered by federal agents’ actions in Portland, are concerned about President Donald Trump’s announcement this week that he planned to send an influx of agents into Chicago to combat street violence. Lightfoot has said she welcomes added resources but does not want to see the type of force that has been used against protesters in Portland. Agents there have used rubber bullets and tear gas.
Wall of Moms organizers acknowledged the danger. Group member Terry Henderson offered safety training, warning the moms on their website to bring shields because they may get beaten. “This is dangerous,” she posted. “It is critical we have every bit of safety gear we can get our hands on.”
As first reported in Block Club Chicago, leaders emphasized that they want to keep the spotlight on demonstrators of color. The moms, many of whom are white, declined official comment for this story after arguments on their Facebook page over whether they were rushing into things with a “white savior complex.” The group posted a press statement, but quickly took it down, while commentators noted that mothers of color have long been protesting, against both gang shootings and violence by police.
In one recent example last month, as the Chicago Tribune reported, Black and Latina women from the West Side marched together to oppose racism and support Black Lives Matter.
Tanya Wood, executive director of the Westside Justice Center, who helped lead the march, welcomed any reinforcements to the cause.
“Disrupting systems of racism, that’s work that has to be done by all of us,” she said. “We certainly welcome that support. It’s about community with one another … (regardless of) geography, ethnicity, and artificial social concepts that keep humans apart.”
Wall of Moms members will only go where asked by other protest groups, and members do not need to be mothers, Sabin clarified. “If you feel called to join us to protect peaceful protestors by standing up to these bullies, then you are a Mom!” she wrote on Facebook.
The site, which on Friday afternoon was not available for public viewing, posted instructions from Black Lives Matter for protesting, including wearing masks due to the pandemic and for anonymity, bringing umbrellas to block visibility and the sun, following the chants of Blacks, Indigenous, and people of color, and writing emergency contact information on one’s body. When seeing police, they advised, “Don’t Run! Lock arms! Don’t ask them to take a knee!!”
Likewise, inspired by protesters in Hong Kong and Portland, a group of dads is looking to support “anti-racist, pro-justice” movements by blowing away tear gas with leaf blowers.
“If you know of any people who embody dad spirit and wish to join,” one organizer wrote on the Wall of Moms site, “we are gathering leaf blowers now and planning to show up for justice.”
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