Groups plan 19-day pre-inaguration peace vigil

When most of Chicago is running in from the cold, a group in Hyde Park is launching Camp Hope, a 19-day outdoor vigil to remind President-Elect Barack Obama and the city about the changes fought for on Election Day.

"We're testifying for ideals that were not just dropped out of the sky," says Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator for the anti-war organization Voices for Creative Non-Violence, one of the groups involved in the event. "We went to the voting booth for them."

Beginning with a kick-off event on New Year's Day at Hyde Park's Drexel Square Park, the event is a collaborative effort by 40 different area organizations that rally around different progressive causes, including non-violence, health care, immigration reform, racial equality, climate change and economic justice. Volunteers will gather from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day and hold evening events on various topics.

Kelly says Obama is under a lot of pressure from lobbyists to continue with the status quo in a lot of areas, from health care reform to military action.

"These corporations want to make sure that we continue to manufacture bombs and that we have war zones in which to use them," says Kelly.

The park is located about three blocks from the Obama family home at 5046 S. Greenwood Ave. Organizers say they have been in touch with authorities and have been told there are no security issues at their location.

About 50 demonstrators are expected daily, organizers say.

Kelly says the frigid weather vigil will help participants identify with people for whom they are advocating.

"It's good to place ourselves out in the cold. How else do we identify with refugees and victims of war?" she says.

Camp Hope focuses on eight main issues that Obama regularly addressed during the campaign - withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq; diplomacy in Afghanistan and Pakistan; the use of nuclear weapons; closing Guantanamo Bay detention camp; suspending deportation of immigrants and immigration raids; fighting climate change; a moratorium on home foreclosures and full employment and universal health care.

Organizers say Obama is one target of their vigil, but they also want to remind Chicagoans about the problems the city faces.

"We want to bring a focus to the underserved communities in the area," says Dan Pearson, an organizer with Camp Hope. "We want to make sure that the inequality in this city is addressed."

Organizations from around Chicago have gathered to be a part of Camp Hope and advocate for their causes.

The Rev. Finley Campbell, a Baptist minister and a member of the peace action task force at the First Unitarian Church of Chicago, said his group joined Camp Hope to talk about economic justice and what he calls "racist unemployment."

Campbell says tough economic times tend to be tougher on the city's African-American communities.

"A recession is what the white folks call it," says Campbell. "But a depression is what the black folks call it."

Campbell's calling for economic reforms that would help the working class and unemployed. He says strategies that were used during the depression, like giving unemployed people city jobs, would help the economy and people who are struggling.

"We could have a part-time reserve labor force," says Campbell. "Why couldn't we have hired a lot of unemployed to dig out these side streets during all the snowstorms?"

But his ideas, he says, are just the beginning. He's hoping Camp Hope will get people of all races and economic levels thinking about what they can do to change Chicago.

"These ideas can't do anything. They can start a conversation," says Campbell. "It's time for us to stop being passive and starting thinking on these ideas now."

The idea for the vigil came back in September from a group in St. Louis, Mo., Justice and Peace Shares. Chicago organizations quickly adopted the event and began organizing different groups to be a part of it. Kelly says working with groups that have different causes has been challenging, but fruitful.

"We have to realize that we are all a part of one another," says Kelly. "We can't just let that be rhetoric."

The kickoff event for Camp Hope begins at 1 p.m. New Year's Day in Drexel Square Park at the corner of 51st and South Drexel avenues. A calendar of events for each day can be found at the organization's website.