Matthew Kaplan Photography

Protesting General Iron on Chicago's Southeast Side - October 25th, 2020

A cadre of concerned bicyclists, many in Halloween makeup, from the group Bridges//Puentes - Justice Collective of the Southeast, met under the Chicago Skyway Bridge on Sunday afternoon, for a protest ride against the General Iron scrap metal shredder, and to educate members of the community affected by industrial pollution endemic to the heavily industrialized 10th Ward.

Pedaling first to the gates of the S. H. Bell material handling facility on the Calumet River near 102nd Street, the group posted signage and talked to residents of homes across the street, about the toxic levels of manganese, and other environmental hazards that have been documented on nearby properties.

According to one of the protestors, "S.H. Bell is responsible for manganese pollution in this neighborhood. 20,000 residents live within a mile of this site. You can't even grow tomatoes in your yard here" due to the manganese polluting homes in the neighborhood. (S. H. Bell has denied responsibility for the documented contamination.)

"Why can't we get a Lincoln Yards? We get General Iron" he went on to say, referring to the massive redevelopment project on the north branch of the Chicago River which is causing the environmentally problematic General Iron recycling facility to relocate to the east bank of the Calumet River, in this economically stressed, and largely minority community.

One of the signs posted called out the city's "Greening the Chicago River" while "Trashing the Calumet River", and compared the 34.5% asthma rate in the 60617 zip code of the southeast side, with the 6.6% rate in the northside's more affluent 60614 zip code area. "Children shouldn't have to play in toxic waste!" another demonstrator emphasized.

Following their S. H. Bell intervention, the Bridges//Puentes group cycled south to George Washington HS and joined a student-led protest there against General Iron, and 10th Ward Alderman Sue Garza's perceived refusal to oppose the company's permit to operate their metal shredder, less than four blocks from the public school.

According to the demonstrators, Alderman Garza had reneged on a promise to send Mayor Lightfoot a public letter opposing the permitting of the company's relocated operation. Students at the school, and residents of the community, felt Chicago's southeast side has been used as a dumping ground, literally and figuratively, for pollution producing industries that are no longer tolerated in gentrifying north side neighborhoods. As referred to earlier, General Iron's current site on the north branch of the Chicago River is being vacated to make way for the multi-billion dollar Lincoln Yards redevelopment project.

Marching from the high school at 114th and Avenue O, to the Alderman's house about a mile away, the group chanted, "What do we want? Clean air! When do we want it? Now!" and "Who's fault? Sue's fault" referring to Alderman Garza.

In front of the Alderman's house, student protestors cried out "Our community doesn't deserve to be the city's garbage dump!" and "We live here, we matter!" Although the alderman didn't come to the door to meet with the demonstrators crowding her parkway, one of her neighbors pushed back against the noisy protest, yelling to the crowd "Go home! You're invading her personal space! Take it to her office!", while another neighbor watched the proceedings warily from her porch nearby.

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