By Leonna McAfee
Southeast Side residents on hunger strikes to prevent the move of industrial metal shredder General Iron to move operations from affluent Lincoln Park to the predominantly Black and Latino Southeast Side gathered with area activists and supporters at City Hall for a candlelight vigil Thursday.
They called on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to stop the move that has a pending permit granted to Reserve Management Group despite the fact the shredder would be located near schools, parks, and residential areas.
Denouncing potential pollution hazards and what critics of the move are calling environmentally racist zoning policies, Southeast Side residents want to block a final permit. Several Southeast Side activists at the vigil had gone without solid food for 20 days into a hunger strike.
“It’s ridiculous that we haven’t been heard already,” one protester stated. Hunger strikers have vowed not to eat until action is taken by the city and the relocation permit is denied.
Lightfoot responded Wednesday, nearly three weeks into the hunger strike, releasing a letter to hunger strikers saying she is “committed to an open dialogue.”
“The Chicago Department of Public Health asked Reserve Management Group to resubmit its application to operate Southside Recycling at 11600 S. Burley Ave. with a significant amount of additional information, according to the letter signed by Renante Marante, an environmental engineer,” according to WTTW in late December.
A civil rights investigation with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is already underway following a complaint from Southeast Side residents citing environmental racism and the U.S. Department of Justice is set to investigate Chicago’s zoning practices.
Activists are also circulating a petition demanding Lightfoot and Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady deny General Iron’s permit to develop on the Southeast Side.
Leonna McAfee is a social justice reporter at Medill. You can follow her on Twitter at @leemcafe.