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Summer Homeless Standdown Report
By Alex Bonick and Hank Emerle
Representatives of many veterans' groups, including a significant showing from local chapters of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, converged in Chicago on a warm day in August to provide the basic rights of health care, food and shelter, at least for a day, to local homeless veterans. A crew of students and community members from Champaign-Urbana involved in social justice organizing were amongst those who volunteered for this year's annual Summer Standdown. These activists, mostly from the University of Illinois campus, are no strangers to VVAW. As activists in the Progressive Resource/Action Cooperative (PRC), which has been at the forefront of the decade-long struggle to rid the University of its racist mascot, "Chief Illiniwek," they have been witness to the relationship that the Champaign-Urbana and Chicago chapters of VVAW have had with the PRC over the years. These two VVAW chapters have been a constant source of support for the PRC, providing leadership development, event security training, and a presence at anti-chief rallies and protests.
Naturally, PRC members were enthusiastic about a chance to contribute time and labor in unity with VVAW on behalf of their homeless comrades. As those PRC members working at their first Standdown learned, the Chicago Standdown provides an impressive range of services to homeless veterans, from clothing and food to dental care and employment counseling. This event strives to make a difference on multiple levels, not only to satisfy the immediate needs of those veterans forgotten by those they served, but also to empower people to take action on their own behalf.
Upon their arrival at the Humboldt Park location of this year's Standdown, PRC members immediately joined up with those representing the Chicago VVAW chapter, handling labor-intensive kitchen and custodial duties: emptying trash, cooking meals, lugging supplies, washing dishes, and so on, amid the sweltering August weather. Although this weekend may not seem like much fun to your average college student, the PRC activists felt honored to support an organization with a long-standing tradition of fighting for the rights of the marginalized.
As Brooke Anderson, a student and member of both the PRC and VVAW put it, "This summer's Standdown was a great experience for all involved; it provided much-needed services for the homeless veterans, as well as an opportunity for student and veteran activists to communicate about the intersection of our social justice organizing efforts." Another PRC member commented that he was "proud to be working alongside such a diverse and hard-working group of volunteers."
Everyone who came up from Champaign-Urbana felt tired afterwards, but they are eager to return for the next Winter and Summer Standdowns.
Alex Bonick is a senior at the University of Illinois and works with the PRC.
Hank Emerle is also a senior at the University of Illinois,
a PRC member, and a member of the Champaign-Urbana Chapter of VVAW.