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Anti-NATO Protesters Join Movement To Reopen Mental Health Clinics

Mental Health Protest

Anti-NATO protesters are camped out at the shuttered Woodlawn Mental Health Clinic. (Credit: CBS)

Susanna Song Susanna Song
Susanna Song serves as a general assignment reporter for CBS 2...
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UPDATED 05/18/12 12:32 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — With just two days to go before the NATO Summit begins, protesters are joining forces with the Mental Health Movement in their support to reopen clinics closed by the Emanuel administration.

As CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports, many protesters who later joined nurses calling for a Robin Hood tax at Daley Plaza began their day outside the Woodlawn Mental Health Clinic, at 6337 S. Woodlawn Ave.

The protesters spent the night outside the mental health clinic, woke up on a nearby lawn as the sun rose. By 11 a.m., many of the protesters had left for the nurses’ rally, but they planned to return.

the city closed the clinic at the end of last month along with three others. Two other clinics closed before that, all in a move by the city to consolidate services and work with private mental health organizations.

The Woodlawn clinic was the subject of heated protests before it closed. At one point, 23 people were arrested outside the clinic, after they barricaded themselves in front of the doors using steel gates, piping and quick-dry cement.

Police used a chainsaw to cut through the barricades and hauled the demonstrators away.

Now, anti-NATO protesters are joining in on the cause, calling for “health care, not warfare.”

Richard Del Rio of the Mental Health Movement said he was not surprised that anti-NATO protesters chose to join forces with his group.

“A lot of occupiers are in the city, and they had their pick of places to stay, and a lot of people here believe that there’s a health care crisis in this city – some of them health care professionals. Some of these people have been with us for several weeks now in our campaign, so I’m not surprised at all,” he said.

Protester John Wolverton came all the way from Montana to take a stand.

“I felt that it was quite unjust that Mayor Emanuel was willing to spend millions of dollars to host NATO, and at the same time is closing these clinics down, which is really severely impacting these communities and neighborhoods,” Wolverton said. “We’ve had a lot of local support; a lot of neighbors walking by and talking to us about how important to this place us for a lot of the people that are basically hanging by a thread.”

“See how many millions of dollars we’ve spent on bombs and guns, and not enough on public needs and services like health care,” added another protester, Chris Phillips of New York.

The protesters say they vow to remain camped outside the Woodlawn clinic until Mayor Rahm Emanuel agrees to keep all six shuttered clinics open and staffed.

“Whether we win here or not, this will stand out as what happens when you do something as irresponsible as closing six clinics with no plan for the patients,” said Tom Westgard of Occupy Chicago.

In response, a city spokesman said in a statement: “The Administration is committed to promoting the health and wellness of Chicagoans in every neighborhood. The Department of Public Health is implementing reforms that will increase the total number of people who will be served by City resources throughout Chicago with high-quality, vital health and mental health services, and better support people without health insurance. Because of these reforms residents will have access to new services, more services, and better services.”