As Chicago transitions to a new mayoral administration that promises to shake things up, life-long advocates wonder how Chicago can address the giant chasm of accountability that has persisted for years.
For the past eight years and two mayors, environmental justice activists have been more focused on greenwashing efforts to cover up policies and actions that have deeply hurt our communities.
From the death of a demolition worker on the former Crawford Coal Power Plant site to the disastrous city-permitted implosion by Hilco and its contractors on April 11, our communities have continued to demand accountability and have been met with silence.
Despite assurances by the previous mayor's administration that the mishandling of the implosion by the city was addressed, our communities urged the city to end implosions in the city but were ignored. The leaked inspector general's report recommended the termination of the staff that mishandled the implosion, yet they are still employed by the City of Chicago.
We were assured that $19,000 was the highest fine that could be levied against Hilco, yet the city's own records show that the city has been levying historically low fines, if it was enforcing violations by fines at all.
Now, Hilco is allowed to build more diesel trucking infrastructure in our community. Last night, Hilco hosted a disastrous virtual community meeting on its fleet storage yard project at 33rd and Lawndale. This comes on the heels of Alderman Mike Rodriguez joining the calls from the community for this project to be halted until Hilco is accountable to the community for the implosion.
While the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce touts Hilco's Exchange 55 project — the redevelopment of the Crawford coal power plant site where the implosion originated — and cites this expansion as "a vibrant and sustainable development," our communities know greenwashing when we see it.
From prior plant owner Midwest Generation to now Hilco, the industrial developers and businesses on the former coal power plant site have never treated our community with respect.
The "investment" in our community's growth has directly translated into a heavy increase of air pollution and traffic. The only "investment" in local jobs our communities have seen has been in the form of promises of warehouse jobs for our communities, but there is no information released on actual jobs, working conditions, or wages being paid.
The prosperity that we have been repeatedly promised seems to end at Hilco’s, and their tenant, Target's bottom lines.
Our community has been very vocal about our vision for Little Village. Building on the local food economy and local agricultural and manufacturing skill sets, our community had plans to reuse the former Crawford Coal Power site to allow for solar production, manufacturing, and large-scale indoor growing.
We helped write and pass the Future Energy Jobs Act and the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act to move our community from an extractive economy to an inclusive one that builds on our talents and skills and feeds back into our community.
Industry steamrolls these efforts to push a toxic diesel for coal swap instead.
As I hear Mayor Brandon Johnson talk about the most radical thing we can do is love the people of Chicago, I hold my breath.
Those words reflect our young people and our community. Love for the people of Chicago means keeping our people safe, and without accountability from the previous mayor, her staff or Hilco means that we will have to do the heavy lifting to keep our people safe.
I hear my community reminding me that we will continue to heal from the Hilco implosion environmental disaster and the ongoing environmental racism we are surviving by centering the needs of those most impacted.
Beyond keeping polluters accountable, I also hear the understanding that as a community that houses Cook County Jail, we work to ensure that we don't replicate the carceral systems in the name of justice.
Can radical love extend to accountability and environmental justice in Chicago on the eve of a new administration?
We push onward to work alongside those who will ground a just and healthy Chicago in accountability and the transformation communities need. In the meantime, I hope my community doesn't lose its breath waiting to find out.
Kim is the Executive Director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO), where she has worked since 1998. Kim joined LVEJO as an organizer and helped to organize community leaders to successfully build a new playground, community gardens, remodel of a local school park and force a local polluter to upgrade their facilities to meet current laws. As Executive Director of LVEJO, she has worked with organizers to reinstate a job access bus line, build on the recent victory of a new 23 acre park to be built in Little Village, and continue the 10 plus year campaign that won the closure of the two local coal power plants to fight for remediation and redevelopment of the sites. Mrs. Wasserman is Chair of the Illinois Commission on Environmental Justice. In 2013, Mrs. Wasserman was the recipient of the Goldman Prize for North America. Her biggest accomplishment to date is raising three-community organizers aged 24, 18, and 14.
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