LITTLE VILLAGE — After a demolition left Little Village covered in a cloud of dust, neighbors traveled in a car caravan to City Hall on Earth Day, demanding leaders tighten environmental rules to prevent future disasters.
Plastered with hand-drawn signs reading “Hit the road Hico” and “Fuera Hilco,” about 70 cars led by environmental groups traveled through Little Village, Pilsen and the Loop Wednesday as part of the Right to Breathe/Right to Live caravan.
Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LEVJO), Warehouse Workers For Justice and Extinction Rebellion Chicago aimed to raise awareness to the environmental and labor injustices majority Latino neighborhoods on the city’s Southwest Side face.
In an effort to show how close the Pilsen/Little Village industrial corridor — and the polluters who occupy it — are to homes, the caravan traveled on a routes used by warehouse semi-trucks, said Little Village Environmental Justice Organization organizer Edith Tovar.
Shortly after 9 a.m., the caravan set off from Little Village Lawndale High School before passing the old Crawford coal plant. Next, they traveled to an Amazon warehouse in support of workers who have protested for more protections amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Residents watched from their windows and front porches, waving as cars drove by honking their horns.
The group also planned to drive around City Hall and Hilco Redevelopment Partners’ downtown offices.
Environmental groups across the city have called on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to reform the permitting system that allowed the Crawford smokestack to be demolished during a respiratory pandemic. The implosion was ultimately botched.
The city is conducting a review of Saturday’s demolition and plans to update regulations and safeguards. Many of the city’s systems need updating, Lightfoot said.
The city will also create a position for a senior environmental inspector to be “our eyes and ears on projects of this type.” The city’s systems rely on companies telling the truth, but a senior inspector could ensure everything that is said is actually being done, Lightfoot said.
Kim Wasserman, executive director of the Little Village Organization, has called for Hilco to abandon its plan to redevelop the site into a 1-million-square-foot distribution center. Activists also want Lightfoot to rescind the $19.7 million in tax subsidies the city has promised Hilco for the project.
Tovar said neighbors want to see real reform to polices that provide “loop holes” to industry.
“We are calling on the city to prioritize the public health of Chicagoans over polluters,” Tovar said.
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