Southeast Side activists rally at City Hall urging Lightfoot to deny permit for General Iron

Protesters at City Hall in downtown Chicago gathered Feb. 23 in support of hunger strikers, activists and community members demanding Mayor Lori Lightfoot deny a permit that would allow General Iron to relocate to the Southeast Side. (Leonna McAfee/MEDILL)

By Leonna McAfee
Medill Reports

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.  


Protesters light candles at the candlelight vigil and rally for hunger strikers outside City Hall Feb. 23 to protest the relocation of General Iron. (Leonna McAfee/MEDILL)


Protesters rallied for the candlelight vigil in solidarity with Southeast Side hunger strikers outside City Hall Feb. 23 to block the relocation of industrial metal shredder General Iron from Lincoln Park. Mayor Lori Lightfoot responded nearly three weeks into the hunger strike, releasing a letter to strikers stating she is “committed to an open dialogue.” Hunger strikers and supporters have called her response “insulting.” (Leonna McAfee/MEDILL)
Anthony Tamez, co-president of the Chi-Nations Youth Council, called for solidarity with hunger strikers, demanding that Lightfoot block a final permit to General Iron to move to the Southeast Side. The foundation advocates to “create a supportive open environment for Native Youth, to raise awareness of cultural identity and promote a healthy lifestyle through arts, activism, and education,” according to its website. (Leonna McAfee/MEDILL)
Former Gov. Pat Quinn rallied with activists, community members and hunger strikers to demand a stop to the relocation of General Iron to the Southeast Side. Quinn has been a vocal supporter of the hunger strike, even helping draft a citizen’s resolution filed at City Hall on Feb. 23 before the vigil to urge a denial of the permit. (Leonna McAfee/MEDILL)
Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th Ward) chokes up during a candlelight vigil at City Hall in downtown Chicago, calling the move by General Iron to the Southeast Side “wrong and immoral.” “Everyone has a right to clean air and water,” he said. (Leonna McAfee/MEDILL)
Suzanne Johnston, who was two days into participating in the hunger strike, joined community residents, leaders and activists gathered outside City Hall to call on Lightfoot to deny the permit to move General Iron to the Southeast Side. For some, the Feb. 23 vigil marked the 20th day of the hunger strike. Activists have joined the strike at different times, but some have maintained it for the full 20 days, eating no solid food. (Leonna McAfee/MEDILL)
William Guerrero, 19, known as “The KiD from Pilsen,” is on day 11 of the hunger strike. “Why on Earth during the middle of a pandemic does a polluter want to move to the Southeast Side in front of a high school?” he asked. (Leonna McAfee/MEDILL)
If the plant is not good enough for the North Side, it’s not good enough for the South Side, emphasized many hunger strikers and supporters of the Southeast Side, which has been plagued with environmental pollution for years. The Lightfoot administration has asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for guidance on General Iron’s relocation. (Leonna McAfee/MEDILL)
“This move threatens my ability to do my job. No child in this city should have to attend school near heavy industrial facilities. My colleagues and I can’t teach our students if they can’t learn and we can’t breathe clean air,” said Lauren Bianchi, a teacher from George Washington High School, one of the two schools less than half a mile away from the proposed site of where industrial metal shredder General Iron would relocate. (Leonna McAfee/MEDILL)
Crystal Vance, 32, an organizer with Puentes/Bridges, called the move by the city and General Iron “nothing new,” saying people on the Southeast Side always have their lives on the line with exposure to industrial pollution. The not-for-profit works to bridge the gap between farming communities in the Midwest and immigrant workers. (Leonna McAfee/MEDILL)
Hunger strikers including Southeast Side residents are angry the Southeast Side has become a dumping ground for environmental pollution. The Southeast Side is the most industrial area of the city, home to businesses that dump more than a million pounds of toxins into the air every year. (Leonna McAfee/MEDILL)

Leonna McAfee is a social justice reporter at Medill. You can follow her on Twitter at @leemcafe.