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What about the neighborhoods?

The Grassroots Collaborative is offering visiting journalists bus tours of working-class neighborhoods struggling with violence, foreclosures, and clinic closings — and they’re questioning the millions of dollars being spent on entertainment at the NATO summit.

Buses leave from the Hyatt Regency at 8:15 a.m. on Thursday and Friday, May 17 and 18, and return by 11 a.m.  Information is at thegrassrootscollaborative.org.

Thursday’s tour will cover Little Village, one of the city’s largest Latino neighborhoods, where community groups are working to address youth violence; and Back of the Yards, where one of six mental health centers recently closed by the city is located.

(The two clinics primarily serving Latino communities were closed, as were four of six South Side clinics, and half the bilingual staff was laid off, all to save $3 million.  Having been repeatedly rebuffed in attempts to hold meetings with city officials – including a City Council hearing blocked by the mayor– the Mental Health Movement is planning to march on Mayor Emanuel’s home on Saturday morning.)

Friday morning’s tour will cover Englewood, a poor African-American community hard hit by foreclosures and violence, and Brighton Park, where low-income Latino residents are developing community schools.

Grassroots Collaborative, a citywide coalition of labor and community organizations, is questioning the priorities of spending millions of dollars to host the NATO summit while the city shuts down clinics and schools, said Eric Tellez.

On another level, he said, NATO spends billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars while poverty and unemployment “devastates communities across the country” and “the global poor fall deeper into poverty.”

Party fund

Last month the coalition called on World Business Chicago, which is raising money to host NATO, to donate comparable sums to establish a Neighborhood Jobs Trust.  In recent statements, the group is focusing on the $14 million being spent on parties for the summit.

Read the rest of this entry »

Youth in motion – from Hip Hop to soccer

Young people get a lot of bad press, but with the support of community groups, many are seeking out positive paths in an increasingly difficult world.  Tomorrow two events – a hip hop festival and a soccer league gathering – highlight some of the alternatives.

The Pros Arts Studio’s Sixth Annual We R Hip Hop Festival showcases local musicians, artists, breakdancers and poets in Pilsen and Little Village, emphasizing the noncommercial, positive aspects of hip-hop culture.

It takes place at Dvorak Park, 1119 W. Cullerton, from 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, August 13.  Read the rest of this entry »

Clean Air and Water Show

Without a car, any Little Village resident going to the lakefront for the city’s Air and Water Show earlier this month would have had to take several buses – and probably walk a half mile or more in addition.

That’s just one of a number of issues to be raised by an alternative celebration, the Clean Air and Water Show, taking place this Saturday, August 28.

Sponsored by a coalition of grassroots environmental, community, labor and peace groups, the Clean Air and Water Show starts at noon with a rally for clean power at the Crawford coal-fired power plant in Little Village (34th and Pulaski).

Along with a sister plant in Pilsen, Crawford is the leading source of air pollution and carbon emissions in the city, said Michael Pitula of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization.

At 1 p.m. there’s a bike ride along the proposed route for a 31st Street bus line.  LVEJO has been organizing for restoration of the route for several years, pointing out that there’s a 25-block gap between east-west bus routes in Little Village – and that African American, Latino and Asian American communities on the South and Southwest Sides have no direct transit to the museum campus and lakefront beaches, Pitula said.

The route was eliminated in 1997, but since then several schools have opened, along with housing and shopping, in the area.  Restoring the route was first proposed by students at the new Little Village Lawndale High School, who pointed out that there’s no transportation for students who stay after school for tutoring, sports, or arts programs, Pitula said.

At LVEJO’s urging, the CTA applied for a federal Job Access Reverse Commute Grant and was awarded $1.1 million in 2009, contingent on coming up with matching funds. Then came a series of budget crises and service cuts.

LVEJO plans to ramp up efforts to identify local funding sources this fall, Pitula said; the federal funds must be returned if they aren’t used in the next year.  One idea is to ask the White Sox, Bears, and lakefront museums to kick in for matching funds.

“We need to turn the tide on service cuts,” he said.  “We’ve had a decade of service cuts, and it’s getting to the point that there’s not going to be much of a system left.”

At 3 to 6 p.m. there’s a Clean Air and Water Show at the 31st Street Beach, with skits, performances and speeches highlighting the value of clean energy and public transit for the health of Chicago residents – and as a source of jobs.

The contast to the military extravaganza staged by the city on the lakefront is intentional, Pitula said.

“It’s a question of priorities,” he said. “We can choose to spend our tax dollars on war or we can choose things like renewable energy and public transit.”

Clean Power spotlight on Solis after Munoz signs on

An grassroots campaign to win aldermanic support for the Chicago Clean Power Ordinance had its first victory yesterday when Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) signed on as a co-sponsor.  Meanwhile the other alderman representing a ward containing a coal plant, Ald. Danny Solis (25th), faces a protest outside a fundraising dinner tonight.

Solis has not endorsed the clean power ordinance, which would raise standards for emissions of carbon dioxide and particulates.

A press conference at 6:30 p.m. (Wednesday, August 4) and a “people’s dinner” outside Alhambra Palace Restaurant, 1240 W. Randolph, will highlight the group’s charge that Solis is “more concerned about his campaign donors than the health of neighborhood residents,” said Jerry Mead of the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization.

He said that Midwest Generation has been a major contributor to Solis’s campaigns.

Midwest Gen’s two Chicago plants, Fisk in Pilsen and Crawford in Little Village, cause premature deaths, ER visits and asthma attacks, and contribute to lung cancer and respiratory disease, according to the Chicago Clean Power Coalition.  The two plants are located in more densely populated areas than any other coal plants in the nation.

They are also among the largest sources of carbon emissions in the city, emitting 5 million metric tons – the equivalent of 872,000 cars – in 2007, according to the coalition.

In 2003 voters in a precinct near Fisk voted by nearly 90 percent in favor of tougher emission standards, Mead said.

In recent weeks PERRO and others have been petitioning residents at neighborhood festivals and churches.  “The response has been really good,” Mead said.  “It’s clear that people really favor the ordinance.”

Munoz announced his support for the ordinance Tuesday morning, citing congressional inaction on climate change and health concerns in his ward.

“For over eight years our communities have fought to clean up these plants, and we are glad Ald. Muñoz is responding to our cries for clean air,” said Kimberly Wasserman of Little Village Environmental Justice Organization.

Aldermen targeted on clean power

With next year’s elections looming, national officers of the Sierra Club and Greenpeace are coming to town to announce additional organizational resources for a ward-by-ward drive to win aldermanic support for the Chicago Clean Power Ordinance.

They’ll join representatives from nearly 50 environmental and civic groups in the Chicago Clean Power Coalition at a media event tomorrow (Thursday, July 15) at 11 a.m. at Dvorak Park, 1119 W. Cullerton.

The park is nearby Midwest Generation’s Fisk plant, one of two coal-fired power plants in the city that would be required to install modern pollution controls under the ordinance.  The two plants are held responsible for asthma and other health problems causing scores of deaths and hundreds of emergency room visits every year.

The ward-level, citywide campaign will include a focus on Aldermen Danny Solis (25th ward) and Rick Munoz (22nd ward), who represent Pilsen and Little Village, where the Fisk and Crawford plants are located.  To date, nine aldermen have joined sponsor Ald. Joe Moore (49th) in backing the ordinance; Solis and Munoz have yet to do so.

While the company has said it is reducing harmful emissions from the plants, Becki Clayborn of the Sierra Club’s Illinois  Beyond Coal Campaign pointed out that the US EPA and Illinois Attorney General brought them to court earlier this year because they are failing to meet current standards for emissions.  The plants have been charged with thousands of violations of opacity standards.

In 2006 the state negotiated a deal allowing the plants to continue operating but requiring them to meet modern emissions standards — starting in 2015.  Because they predate the Clean Air Act of 1977, they are exempt from its toughest standards.

Commonwealth Edison recently told Crain’s Chicago Business that within the next few years, the loss of either Fisk or Crawford “would create an unacceptable degredation of reliability in downtown Chicago.”

Clayborn is skeptical.  “We think that’s just speculation,” she saqid.  “We know [Fisk and Crawford] are only operating at 30 percent capacity on average, so they’re not creating that much power.”

They are creating about 5 million tons of carbon emissions yearly – the equivalent of 875,000 automobiles, according to the coalition.

“Burning coal to generate electrictity harms human health and compounds many of the major public health problems facing the industrialized world,” according to a recent report from Physicians for Social Responsibility.

The report traces detrimental health effects from every phase of the coal power business – from mining to disposal of post-combustion wastes.  Coal power production contributes to four of the five leading causes of death in the U.S. – heart disease, cancer, stroke and chronic respiratory disease.

Youth meet on violence

Planned, organized, and led by youth, the annual Little Village Youth Forum has evolved into a major gathering of activists and community organizations working to address the issue of violence in Chicago.

The third annual forum this Saturday will feature CPS chief Ron Huberman speaking along with a panel of young Chicagoans who have experienced and survived violence.

It takes place Saturday, March 27, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Saucedo Scholastic Academy, 2850 W. 24th Bvd.

Workshops will feature experts on topics ranging from brain development to the history of gangs; hip-hop and spoken word performers will give voice to community concerns; and a gallery will present visual art by people who have experienced violence, said Alhali Herrera, an organizer with Enlace Chicago.  The event also features a resource fair with programs available for young people and adults.

Huberman has been asked to tell students in the audience what CPS is doing about violence.  Organizers are hopeful he will offer increased support for community-based groups that are working directly with youth on preventing violence, Herrera said.

Two previous conferences have led to ongoing collaborations by community organizations across the city and an increase in youth leadership development, she said.  In Little Village, youth initative is behind Enlace Chicago’s violence prevention collaborative, a collective of 24 community organizations.  Enlace Chicago also provides after-school programming including arts and sports activities at four community schools in the neighborhood.

The youth forum is “a time for young people to shine as organizers of an event and to show the community, and their parents and teachers, that they have something important to say,” said Herrera.

“It gives young people a chance to say, we are here, we want to be involved, we want to be part of the solution, and we can contribute,” she said.

A new community garden

The first community co-op garden in Little Village will be officially opened in a ceremony tomorrow, Saturday, October 17, at 1 p.m.  It’s hosted by the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization and located behind the Amor De Dios Church, 2356 S. Sawyer.

Art in Ravenswood, Little Village

Two neighborhoods highlight their art communities this weekend.

The Little Village Arts Festival starts Friday (opening night event at Catedral Cafe, 2500 S. Cristiana, 5 to 0 p.m.) with exhibits by over 70 artists in neighborhood galleries, performances, and family activities Saturday and Sunday from 12 to 8 p.m., sponsored by the Little Village arts coalition-cum-gallery space Villarte.

And the Ravenswood Art Walk showcases 150 local artists in 60 studios and galleries and features The Blago Project in the old office of the Friends of Rod Blagojevich, 4147 N. Ravenswood, featured in federal wiretaps.  Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; pick up a map at the Ravenswood Center, 4256 N. Ravenswood.  Opening reception Friday from 2 to 7 p.m. at Ravenswood Billiard Factory, 4043 N. Ravenswood ($35 admission).



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