On Movements, Memories and Finding Family

Friends of Babur Balos, once an active organizer in Occupy Chicago, staged a light action in August to show solidarity with their ailing friend. (Photo: Tom Callahan)

Friday will mark the 5th anniversary of the day Occupy found its way to Chicago. If you were around in those days, as I was, you probably have a lot of mixed feelings about that time. It was a moment of great potential and activation, and while not all moments of potential yield any immediate accomplishment, they do matter. Sometimes, they begin a process of realization, and sometimes, they show us what we’re made of, so that we can stand ready the next time around. As people who do movement work, such moments can also help us find the family we desperately need in this world, and that’s what this piece is really about.

I knew the day I met Babur Balos, at the corner of Jackson and LaSalle, that we would probably be friends for the rest of our lives. I wasn’t wrong. But on the eve of this year’s anniversary, as a rare disease threatens to cut Babur’s life short, I am reminded of what Occupy meant to me in very human terms.

I approached Occupy with a great deal of skepticism, but I trusted Babur almost immediately. I didn’t know where the movement was going, in those early days, but I knew that if things ever got dicey, in a meeting or in the streets, this was someone I wanted by my side. I knew that, in rough moments, he would be fair, loyal and brave.

And he was.

When shit went down, on May 20, 2012, and other days when the police decided to show their character, Babur and I never had to ask if the other was leaving. We knew that neither of us was leaving without the other. We were exactly where we were supposed to be, and in the right company. The universe rarely grants such moments, but when it does, you hold onto them. And you hold onto the people who make those moments what they are.


To speak to my own work, in the years since, I can say with certainty that there would be no Chicago Light Brigade without Babur Balos. Our friendship, forged in Occupy, helped propel our local Light Brigade into existence, and without the Chicago Light Brigade, I can’t say that anything else I’ve organized would be what it is, because everything we are, everything we do, and everything we are to one another is woven through the fabric of our relationships. Our movements, friendships, and freedom dreams flow forward, and at times inward, yielding the stories that become our histories.

For many of us who do movement work in Chicago, Babur is part of our shared history of struggle. We’ve ambushed politicians and painted grade school hallways together. We’ve watched moments of protest rise and fall and rise again.

I’ve watched as Babur provided support and comfort to families who’ve lost their loved ones to police violence, and marveled at how he could find the time and strength to do so, while struggling with a grave illness and caring for his own family.

I did begin to see less of Babur when his girls came along. I’ve missed him at times, but the ways he engaged in the work only shifted, really. He never actually stepped back. Even now, as his liver continues to shut down, he still turns up at events to show love and solidarity. I don’t think he’s wired to live any other way, and I love him for that.

I’m grateful for all that Babur is and for all that he’s brought to our city, and in trying times, I know it’s important to stay grateful, and hopeful. But my hopes have always been demanding, and I want Babur to live. I want him to be here as his daughters become proud young Black women. I want to have his back in the streets again, and know that he has mine. I want to raise a glass with him at this time next year, to all the friends we made in 2011, and all the good they’ve done since.


I want my friend to live, and I believe he will. Because he has a fierce heart and beautifully stubborn spirit, but I also want his family to know comfort and peace as he awaits a liver transplant — and that last part is something we can do something about.

So please join me in marking the anniversary of this movement moment by making a gift to Babur’s beautiful family in their time of need. Since this crowd fund page was created, Babur’s health has continued to deteriorate, and we now know the fund’s goal is much too modest, so let’s make sure we exceed it.

I know that some of my dearest friends aren’t sure whether to remember Occupy with pride or embarrassment — as there were moments worthy of both — but we can certainly remember it with love. Because for all our faults and missteps, I don’t feel trite saying that we found love out there. And for a lot of us, that love is still very real. We are family, both close and extended. We are still dreamers, and we’re still here, so let’s make sure that on our sixth anniversary, we can celebrate the fact that Babur survived this illness, and that his community carried him through it.

For our part, founding members of the Chicago Light Brigade will match the next two $100.00 donations made to Babur’s crowd fund.

We love you, Babur. Happy anniversary.

To help Babur and his family: http://bit.ly/ShowUp4Babur

(UPDATE: Shortly before midnight on September 23, the five year anniversary of Occupy Chicago, Babur’s crowd fund goal was surpassed. The goal was always modest, so we hope that people will keep giving, but we consider this a huge moral victory and celebration of both Babur and the community that loves him. Many thanks to all who’ve shown support.)

(Photo: Tom Callahan)