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Freedom Square Phases Out Overnight Occupancy after 41 Days of Loving

Lawndale & Imagining a World Without Police
On August 31, the sleeping tents at Freedom Square, slowly, sadly came down. The first aid
canopy came down. The arts & crafts canopy came down. The free clothing store, free library,
and pantry still stand, with some produce ready to throw on the grill. The basil is growing strong
in the garden.
Across from Homan Square, the tent city occupation was a spontaneous decision born out of a
spectacle of civil disobedience on July 20th. We at the #LetUsBreathe Collective had only six
small tents, a grill, a will to love Lawndale beyond shutting down traffic for a couple of hours in
front of the notorious CPD black site, and a vision for a world without police. We had no
meetings, no budget, no dedicated staff, just a handful of people who were willing to camp out.
We didn’t know if we’d hold it through the night, but hoped the goal of opposing ‘Blue Lives
Matter’ legislation, calling out the illegal detention and torture happening across the street, and
building consciousness for abolitionist politics would garner support. We figured however long
we could hold the space, we’d use it as a tool to give out free clothes, free books, free food, and
cold water to the community.
What we failed to do early on was implement tangible accountability protocols for ourselves and
the community members that came through the space. We posted our Brave Space Agreements,
and used them as guidelines for how we treat the space and each other, but we had no concrete
mechanism beyond peace circles for handling conflict. And when the children of Freedom
Square began asking their parents to camp with us, we welcomed an opportunity to build a
village on tenets of political education and artmaking, but we had no structured childcare for
what became a 24-hour youth engagement center. Still, a diverse array of workshops —from
rumba to zine-making to screenprinting to science to journalism, and so much more— kept
them engaged for blocks of time, but the moment to moment cleaning, building, and
maintenance of the space stretched organizer capacity to our limits, and we simply could not
give kids structured attention every moment of the day.
What we also failed to do was maintain collective vision about the values and operation of the
space. We wanted to empower everyone to take ownership of and claim leadership in the space,
so folks with all levels of organizing backgrounds (or not) and intersectional analyses (or not)
positioned themselves as leaders. #LetUsBreathe values were not always embodied by folks
running things, and that strained our relationships with volunteers and community members.
And often, it was unclear whether our collective values were really collective at all, because we
were all so physically stretched in maintaining the 24-hour occupation that it seemed impossible
to get everyone in a circle to meet, talk, refine ideas, and strategize.
How do you hold your cousin accountable when he’s calling Black women who come volunteer
on the grill ‘stupid bitches’? After you’ve had all the ‘accountability talks,’ when the behavior
doesn’t change, how do you enforce consequences without replicating the punitive power
structures you’re there to oppose? How do you keep teenage boys from throwing rocks on what
used to be a vacant lot where they always threw rocks before you got there? How do you ban

someone from a space you don’t own? How do you send a child home when their family has
locked them out?
Freedom Square accomplished more beautiful things in each of its 41 days (and counting) than
we can name: we built relationships with survivors of Homan Square torture, we fed 200-300
people a day, we taught kids pottery and about Assata Shakur, we chanted, we marched, we
roasted marshmallows, and in every moment, we stood for love, no matter how violent or
chaotic things became.
But Freedom Square also hurt a lot of people. Women were silenced and verbally abused. So
many phones were stolen it’s dizzying. And maybe most tragically, core organizers were so
physically and mentally fatigued from multi-day shifts of physical and emotional labor that we
failed to successfully value and offer structure to the many contributions of volunteers and
fellow organizers. Too many people left Freedom Square feeling dismissed or unheard, when we
proclaim to stand for the opposite.
What we faced in these past 41 days is in large part due to the fact that building a world without
police is hard work.
The Freedom Square occupation was a laboratory for the politics of abolition. We were building
what we're in favor of, not protesting what we're opposed to. Organizers had the opportunity to
co-create a new society within the shell of the old, a world where it was easier for people to share
their gifts without intimidation. It was a project of liberation and most of the structures that
society has taught us are not liberating.
The occupation did not end because we ran out of energy or we were overwhelmed by the
logistics of the site. It ended because it illustrated the tension between the world as it is and the
world as we imagine it to be. We were able to safely respond to numerous instances of theft,
drug use, and physical violence without "first responders." Because we are all first responders.
We are all that we need.
Freedom Square is an exercise in possibility. As we pivot into local self-determination and
community control of the space we reflect on all that's transpired and agree that the vision of an
abolitionist future has never seemed more possible.
And Freedom Square isn’t over. Organizer capacity and volunteer support has dwindled to a
level that cannot safely deescalate the violent conflicts of the space, so we’ve downsized our
operation, packed up some tents, and asked folks not to camp overnight. But as we write this,
Lawndale community members are pitching their own tents and vowing to carry into a new era
of Freedom Square. And while the founding organizers of Freedom Square have maxed out their
physical capacity to be responsible for the safety of the space 24 hours a day, we look forward to
tomorrow’s free hair braiding and fade exchange and Sunday’s big Back to School Block Party.
As autumn approaches and young people return to school, #LetUsBreathe will turn its attention
toward finishing the rehab of a building on the south side that will become our headquarters,
toward continuing the fight to shut down the CPD Homan Square facility, and toward healing

the relationships that Freedom Square has harmed. Meanwhile, on Homan & Fillmore, we
continue to stand for love, fight for freedom, and build community.
We are committed to resisting the obstacles to a community of mutual love, compassion, and
service. We have left a day’s supply of food and water at the campsite, so we invite everyone to
bring their grills, their time + labor, and their love to the Lawndale community.