All posts by cloeecooper2017

Chicago neighborhood awash in blue

By Cloee Cooper

Chicago became a centerpiece of the national Black Lives Matter movement after widespread resistance erupted following the police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in the fall of 2014. Since then, tensions between the police and Chicago residents have continued, drawing distinct lines throughout the city. One Chicago neighborhood takes a visible stand on the side of the police.

Close to Midway International Airport, Garfield Ridge is a neighborhood comprising a high percentage of police officers, firefighters and medical service providers. The median household income in Garfield Ridge is $67,576, compared to the Chicago median income of $50,702. The streets, homes and small shops are lined with blue ribbons and flags with a blue line through it, representing support for police. The idea was born in 2014, after NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were shot in Brooklyn, New York, and the flag represents “Blue Lives Matter.” The pro-police movement in the United States was formed in response to Black Lives Matter.

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Domestic worker gains her rights and finds her voice

By Cloee Cooper and Puja Bhattacharjee

Lucia Wrooman has been cleaning homes in the Chicago area for 14 years. Originally from Mexico City, she came to the United States with her Italian husband and son after they sold their restaurant in Acapulco in 2002. After so many years in the house-cleaning industry, Lucia works at seven homes a week and makes a competitive salary of between $15-$22 an hour. Yet, like the estimated 35,000 other house-cleaners, care-givers and nannies in Illinois, Lucia was not guaranteed health care, a vacation, protection from sexual harassment or paid time off until this year.

In November of 2015, Lucia began campaigning for her rights, including taking unpaid days off of work to go to Springfield. 67 percent of live-in workers are paid below the state minimum wage, and the median hourly wage of these workers is $6.15, according to The Invisible and Unregulated World of Domestic Work, the first national survey on domestic workers.

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Private treatment center fills void left by state budget cuts

By Cloee Cooper

Melvin Daniels was recently released from his second stint in prison for unlawful use of a weapon. On a rainy January morning, he walked ten blocks from his halfway house in Garfield Park to join a couple dozen people, many of them recovering from alcohol and drug addiction. In a well-lit room, they talked together, drummed, sang and read poetry.

“I really enjoyed that class because I like music a lot, as you can see,” said Daniels. “I’ve been through a lot as far as street violence, gang violence, homeless situations and you know, being isolated.”

Above and Beyond Family Recovery treatment center in East Garfield park is a nonprofit drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility founded in January 2015 by venture capitalist Bryan Cressey. With private funds donated by Cressey, the center can use a non-traditional approach to treatment recovery. That approach focuses on individualized care for the client. The center also offers classes in yoga, acupuncture and trauma recovery. The rehabilitation services are free for everyone, including clients like Daniels—who has a court mandate to get treatment—and others who walk in off the street.

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East Chicago residents face risk of high lead

By Cloee Cooper

Sarah Willis lives near a former U.S. Smelter and Lead Refinery, Inc. plant with her husband and granddaughter in East Chicago, Indiana.

The area was designated as a Superfund site, a  federal government program designed to fund the cleanup of sites contaminated with hazardous substances and pollutants. While residents in the nearby West Calumet Housing complex were ordered by East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland in September to relocate because of high lead and arsenic levels in the soil, Willis and many others in the nearby residential area are waiting for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to clean their contaminated soil.

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Watchdog group on organized racism responds to Trump’s victory

By Cloee Cooper

Many organizations were caught off guard by Donald Trump’s election. Some saw it coming when the presidential campaign geared up last January.

“Everyone is understanding now that the far right is now mainstream. Its running the country. We and others have been warning others about this for a long time,” says Reverend David Ostendorf, founder of Center for New Community (CNC), a national civil rights organization that serves as a watchdog against organized racism.

The organization’s investigative research analyzes the threats to policy and media discourse posed by far right movements. According to them, since the end of the civil rights movement, some of the overtly racist organizations rebranded themselves and found issues that would push their agenda into the mainstream without ever having to speak about race.

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Illinois’ pipeline construction proceeds with reservations but no rancor

By Cloee Cooper

[Package of Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline stories here]

As Native American-led protests against the Dakota Access pipeline continue, major national unions that represent pipeline workers in Illinois have come out in support of the pipeline, despite environmental concerns about the potential for rupture in and around water resources, and the impact to farmland quality.

In Illinois, the Dakota Access pipeline crosses through 12 counties and under 56 rivers, potentially affecting community water supplies for the towns of Carlinville, Carlyle, Greenville, Hamilton, Modesto, Nauvoo, Patoka, Palmyra, Sorento, Warsaw and surrounding communities. A burst or malfunction in the pipeline could impact 27,382 people’s water supply in Illinois, according to an estimate by Andrew Rehn, a Water Resources Engineer at the Prairie Rivers Network, an organization that advocates for Illinois’ clean water and healthy rivers.

“Pipelines break every day. We don’t know if this pipeline is going to burst. The reality is that these are the communities that would be threatened if something happens,” said Rehn.

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Hurting from neglect: Election Day mattered in historic Indiana worker community

By Cloee Cooper

Out of nine congressional districts in Indiana, two re-elected Democratic congressmen on Nov. 8. One of those was in the 1st Congressional District, where East Chicago’s historic community Marktown is located.

Democratic Rep. Pete Visclosky who has been in office since 1985, was re-elected.

Although Marktown voted Democratic, as it usually does, 57 percent of the state voted for president-elect Donald Trump.

Leslie Guajardo, mother of two, lives in Marktown,  which is a worker’s community. Tucked between Arcelor Mittal, which boasts “the largest integrated steelmaking facility in North America,” and British Petroleum oil refinery, it serves as a home to about 250 families most of whom formerly worked in the nearby industrial area.
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Tales from the ‘overseen’: East Chicago residents line up to vote

By Cloee Cooper

“I think we got screwed this year,” said Ashley Zavala, a 28-year-old custodian at a public school in East Chicago, Ind. She voted for Hillary Clinton, but said her option this election was between worse and worst.

“When you have a small town like East Chicago, you are overseen,” said Jose Rodriguez, sitting in front of the polling booth with Zavala. “A lot of the small towns in America today, [politicians] just seem to pass over us.”

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Native Americans put aside differences at Standing Rock to fight pipeline construction

By Cloee Cooper

[Continuing updates on the DAPL pipeline story here.]

Donnielle Wanatee, a member of the federally recognized Sac and Fox tribe of the Mississippi and the Meskwaki nation in Iowa, made the 735-mile trek to the Standing Rock camp during the first week of October. For the mother of eight children, the Sioux protest in North Dakota touched a nerve.

The proposed pipeline cuts through 18 counties in Iowa, including ancestral Meskwaki territory, Wanatee said as she pointed out Meskwaki and Sac land cessions on a map. The Dakota Access Pipeline, known as the Bakken pipeline in Iowa, crosses the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. Wanatee explained that Sac Tribe Chief Keokuk’s grave is about 5-10 miles south of where the pipeline is going to cross.

“We used to fight them and battle with them for this land right here,” said Wanatee.

She said the Meskwaki nation and the Sioux battled over territory between Iowa and North Dakota between 1677 and the late 1800s.

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High end restaurants serve vegetables grown at Cook County jail

By Cloee Cooper

Surrounded by thick concrete walls and barbed wire fences lies the Cook County Sheriff’s Urban Farming Initiative, a place where jail inmates grow vegetables and herbs which eventually make their way to Chicago’s trendy restaurants and farmers’ markets.

The program has operated with inmate labor since 1994. Spanning 130,000 square feet, and located within the Cook County Jail facility, the garden is the size of about three football fields. This past season, inmates grew 10,000 pounds of vegetables – ranging from carrots, kale and zucchini to cilantro and chioggia beets.

Every season 30 inmates participate in the program and earn $2 a day to learn gardening, grow vegetables and prepare produce to be sold. Cook County is the largest jail in the country, with over 8,000 inmates, and the Urban Farming Initiative is one of several jobs at the jail. Other jobs include sanitation, work in the kitchen, snow removal, grass cutting, cleaning dog cages and doing laundry. The pay range for all jobs is from $1 to $5 a day, according to jail officials.

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