On Wednesday, June 28th, the Chicago chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America distributed over 1,000 quality masks to working people across Chicago in the midst of an ongoing air quality crisis.
When Chicagoans awoke Tuesday morning to the news that our city had among the lowest air quality in the entire world, organizers in CDSA mounted a plan. With only 5 hours of notice, over 50 people attended a call Tuesday evening to coordinate a rapid response to the health crisis. The following day, organizers distributed over 1,000 quality masks, predominantly KN95, to hundreds of Chicagoans, including CTA workers at the Kedzie bus depot, working people at the Howard and 95th/Dan Ryan CTA stations, and UPS Teamsters at the Jeff Street and Morgan/Pershing sites. This mutual aid was accomplished in cooperation with partners at 48th Ward Neighbors for Justice and made possible through mask donations supplied by Jobs With Justice, Edgewater Mutual Aid Network, and other community groups.
These volunteer-led relief efforts were necessitated by our government’s failure to mobilize an adequate response. CDSA urges Mayor Johnson and Governor Prtizker to consider future times of low air quality within the city and state a public health emergency. In doing so, they can distribute PPE to the general public to keep residents, especially vulnerable ones, safe from the potential health hazards.
This unpreparedness extends to the private sector. UPS is one of countless employers who failed to notify employees of the hazardous working conditions on Tuesday — conditions which will doubtless be a recurring danger to workers’ health as the climate emergency escalates. UPS also failed to make any new masks available to workers going out on the job this week, behavior which fits into a pattern of refusing to address safety concerns. UPS Teamsters have authorized a strike if today’s June 30th negotiating deadline is not met, and CDSA is prepared to support in solidarity.
Disturbingly, our volunteers attest to encountering many dozens of Chicagoans — including CTA employees — who were completely unaware that the hazy skies were due to dangerous wildfire smoke, that going outdoors for any period of time can cause health complications, or that wearing a mask outdoors at this time was recommended by health agencies. This deficit of education and resources is unsurprising given that the top health official in Chicago is actively aligned against the health of working class Chicagoans. The Chicago Department of Public Health is headed by Dr. Allison Arwady, a Lightfoot appointee who has repeatedly put business interests ahead of public health, even siding with notorious air polluter Southside Recycling over the complaints of residents who pointed to illnesses derived from the company’s car shredding operation. CDPH messaging under her watch has been unclear and their advice completely ignores the many working people who cannot “stay inside” until air quality considerably improves. CDSA joins our partners at the Collaborative for Community Wellness in calling for Mayor Johnson to uphold his campaign promise to fire Dr. Arwady.
Ultimately, the working class can only achieve lasting public health equity through mass mobilization against climate change. We encourage anyone who shares our vision of a Chicago which prioritizes everyone’s safety to join us in fighting for an ecosocialist future. Our Democratize ComEd campaign would municipalize Chicago’s power grid, allowing for democratic control, progressive rates, energy equity, and gradual decarbonization. A better world is possible.