Welcome to Issue #21 of the Red Star Bulletin!
The aim of this bulletin is to bring Chicago Democratic Socialists of America members a regular round-up of important legislation, committee meetings, and other updates from City Hall, as well as an analysis of what this means for our organizing as socialists.
Make no mistake: the City Council is not friendly terrain for us. We must first and foremost continue to build power in the places it derives from–our workplaces, our neighborhoods, and the streets. But we hope to give CDSA members the information they need to assess the electoral project we’re embarking on and to continue building it into a powerful vehicle for working-class politics in our city.
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Chicago Industry’s Legacy: Environmental Racism
An industrial site with a record of pollution and nuisance violations is attempting to move into an area of Chicago that has a long history of environmental racism—but residents are putting up a fight against it. General Iron, now being rebranded as Southside Recycling, is an iron shredding plant owned by Reserve Management Group. The company is applying to move its facility from Lincoln Park to the Southeast Side of the city.
The new location is a low-income, predominantly Hispanic community. Historically, much of Chicago’s polluting industry has been located within communities of color on the South and West Sides. As a consequence, these communities also face the disproportionate health impacts that come from living near an industrial site. Adding General Iron to the area will only worsen the impact.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time polluters have been shifted around the city. Finkl Steel also relocated its operations from Lincoln Park to the predominantly Black neighborhood of Burnside on the South Side of Chicago, partly to make more land available for the Lincoln Yards project. General Iron’s current location also borders the Lincoln Yards project.
While operating in Lincoln Park, the General Iron site racked up 11 pollution and nuisance violations in just the past year, along with two citations for explosions. But the plan to move to the Southeast Side would allow General Iron to pay just $18,000 and set up at its new site without any pending violation notices. In its review, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) stated that it would not take any past infractions or community opposition into consideration when deciding whether to approve Southside Recycling’s permit. The permit to move to the Southeast Side was granted in June 2020.
Community opposition to the project has been strong, leading to two additional probes of the project. The first is being conducted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, based on a complaint against the city filed by Southeast Side residents this past summer. The complaint argues that years of city policies have worsened housing segregation by allowing numerous industrial facilities to operate and pollute in a concentrated area. In August, attorneys filed an additional complaint, this one with the state EPA on behalf of three Southeastern Chicago environmental justice groups. The complaint alleges that the approval of the RMG permit was discriminatory. Both the HUD and IEPA allegations are still under review.
Residents have also criticized the state public hearing on the General Iron move for being inaccessible to a community where 82 percent of residents identify as Hispanic or Latinx; there were no notices in Spanish before the event, nor live translation as it took place.
In early February, three community activists staged a hunger strike that was supported by people across the city. The activists called on the city health department to deny the General Iron permit. The hunger strike followed numerous protests over the General Iron move, yet the city shows no signs of turning down the permit.
The Lightfoot administration claims it has addressed community concerns with a recently proposed ordinance to increase fines on air pollution from industrial facilities. Previous fines ranged from a measly $1,000 to $5,000 for facilities polluting above set limits. The new ordinance raises the fines to $5,000 to $20,000, depending on the number of infractions the company has against them.
There is no reason to believe fines on this scale would stop a company like General Iron from polluting. It can afford to simply pay the fines and keep on polluting. Setting higher fines also does nothing to reduce the negative impact on air quality and health for nearby communities; even pollution within regulated limits has a negative health impact. Nor has the city said where revenue from pollution fines will go. In all likelihood, the money will disappear into the general city budget and not directly benefit communities impacted by the pollution. In essence, the city would be making money off of the deteriorating health of communities of color living near industrial facilities.
Steven Joseph, the CEO of Reserve Management Group, has been very vocal in defending the project as well as in criticizing protesters. In October, he told a Sun-Times reporter that he was confident the company would get the permit from the city. Earlier this month, Joseph wrote an op-ed for Crain’s Chicago Business titled “Southeast Side activists’ complaints not supported by facts,” in which he criticized activists for not having science-backed opinions—but provided no scientific evidence of his own.
Meanwhile, the construction of the new site on the Southeast Side is close to completion. RMG is waiting for the last permit to be approved by the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) before it begins operations. According to the CDPH, no decision will be made before March 1.This Wednesday, February 24, from 7:30 – 9:00 pm, CDSA is hosting Political Education & Solidarity with #StopGeneralIron Hunger Strikers. Information is here.
A Quick January Council Recap
Chicago’s City Council last convened on Wednesday, January 27. After nearly an hour of grandstanding by alders over a variety of resolutions, the business moved to the most critical agenda item of the day: bolstering the protections of the city’s Welcoming City ordinance, which defends the rights of immigrants.
Previously, the Welcoming City ordinance allowed the Chicago Police Department (CPD) to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under certain circumstances, such as if a person in CPD custody appeared in the city’s gang database or if they had a prior felony conviction, among other things. The exceptions made immigrant communities fear calling 911 based on their immigration status.
With the amended Welcoming City ordinance, these loopholes were eliminated, bringing Chicago closer to living up to its status as a sanctuary city. The new ordinance forbids local agencies from communicating with federal agencies. Specifically, the CPD is forbidden from stopping, arresting, or detaining an individual based on immigration status or transferring any person into ICE custody.
The measure passed the City Council 41–8.
This is a clear victory for working-class immigrants across the city, giving them greater access to city services without fear. Of course, CDSA is fighting for an alternative to 911 calls being answered by the police. Chicagoans shouldn’t have to rely on an inherently racist and classist institution like a police force to deliver critical services. But the end to the loopholes in the Welcoming City ordinance is a positive step that was crafted and supported by the socialist bloc on the City Council.
The City Council meets again tomorrow, January 24, at 10 am CT. You can watch it here.
This month the City of Chicago and its mayor were in the national spotlight thanks to a New York Times interview with Lori Lightfoot. The mayor spoke frankly about her recent battle with the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) concerning reopening schools amidst a global pandemic.
For Chicago socialists, the interview will further incite anger and distrust at an administration that seemingly seeks to undercut its credibility at every opportunity. During Lightfoot’s first battle with CTU, citizens were more likely to support the union than the City.
Lightfoot draws an absurd parallel between CTU and the Fraternal Order of Police, saying the teachers’ union wants to run the city. Given how CTU wields its power–fighting for smaller class sizes, housing for all students, etc.–it’s outrageous to compare it to an organization with a history of racism and protecting police officers regardless of morality or justice.
The interviewer raises the fact that Lightfoot once campaigned on creating an elected school board. Lightfoot responds, “We would never have opened without mayoral control. It’s quite clear. The fact that L.A. and San Francisco had to sue to force the conversation about reopening?” Democratizing Chicago Public Schools is clearly threatening to a mayor who thinks she knows what’s best.
Outside of the New York Times article, the mayor was blasted in the past week because of how the City spent the discretionary federal COVID funds. To no one’s surprise, it was revealed that 60 percent of that discretionary funding went to personnel expenses for the CPD.
Instead of copping to the immoral use of these funds, the administration rushed to Twitter to claim that news outlets were spreading “misinformation.” The coordinated effort felt akin to Trump’s applying “fake news” to any story unflattering to him.
Clearly, Lightfoot does not care about democracy, transparency, or justice. Now in power, her only goal is to push through her wishes, whether or not they’re supported by those they affect. She doesn’t appear particularly skilled at this, however.
The Red Star Bulletin was conceived by Ramsin Canon and is a project of the Political Education & Policy Committee. This issue was drafted by CDSA members. Special contributions were made by Carlos Enriquez, Brent Glass, Sean Kase, Charlotte Kissinger, Anna Kochakian, Alan Maass, Morgan Madderom, and Taylor Martin. Graphics were contributed by Patrick O’Connell and Jon Lyons. If you would like to contribute to the Red Star Bulletin or have any feedback, email firstname.lastname@example.org.