Faces of Chicago’s coal fight

by Edyta Sitko

August 5, 2011

Greenpeace volunteer leader in Chicago, Luis Arriaga

This is a guest blog by Luis Arriaga, a Greenpeace volunteer leader in Chicago.

Growing up next to a state park was a blessing. I got to experience nature first hand, but there is something off about Silver Springs State Park. Giant power line towers went up through the park sometime in my childhood. Power lines that can most likely be traced back to one of Chicago’s two coal power plants. While I got the benefit of relatively clean air, the children who live around where those power lines start didn’t.

My name is Luis Arriaga. I grew up in the far southwest suburbs of Chicago. I am a 23-year-old journalism student at Columbia College entering my last semester. I chose to get involved with Greenpeace in Chicago to actively engage others in the fight against the dirty air every Chicagoan breathes. It’s one thing to write about the battle for clean air and another to actually be at the forefront speaking to people one on one about the root causes of the dangerous quality of air entire communities in Chicago are forced to bear.

Being a first time volunteer for Greenpeace at such a crucial moment in the history of Chicago has left me thankful. Thankful for Greenpeace and the grassroots organizations in Chicago that have fought the Crawford and Fisk power plants for so long.

Last week, sitting through a city hall meeting with 150 people in support of the Clean Power Ordinance was inspiring. People in green tee shirts showed up in droves to show support for shutting down these dirty old coal plants and build a healthier future in Chicago.

I was inspired by people my age like Stephanie Dunn, who has committed to a five-day hunger strike for the ordinance. She was on day three of her strike in Chicago’s Daley Plaza when I spoke with her for the first time.

She isn’t out there representing any one organization; she’s out on her own terms. She has set her own agenda. Dunn has lived in both Pilsen and Little Village; the two neighborhoods home to Chicago’s Crawford and Fisk coal power plants. She knows just how severe the health consequences of having two coal-powered plants are for the communities they inhabit. She believes that allowing them to continue at full capacity would be to continue a form of eco-racism.

Dunn is a graduate of DePaul University. She graduated with a degree in English. She is also an urban farmer with a meatpacking-turned-indoor farm, “The Plant.” She knows just how polluted not just the air but also the water is because of the Crawford and Fisk power plants. She has to triple distill the water she gets for her farming and the inner-city soil is too polluted to grow anything in.

The exhaustion that comes from sitting out in the sun all day without eating doesn’t change the sense of rejuvenation she gets when people approach her. Especially when it means getting someone to sign her clean energy petition.

“People who come out and practice such a historic form of protest should be doing it because they enjoy it,” says Dunn. “For me, it’s a form of nonviolent warfare.”

Her goal is simple, to build awareness about the two power plants and demand that Mayor Emanuel pass the Clean Power Ordinance and drastically reduce pollution from the plants.

Dunn has one more day left of fasting. We can all do our small part to help her and Support the Clean Power Ordinance in Chicago by calling Mayor Emanuel‘s office and letting him know that you plan on holding him accountable to protecting all Chicagoans from coal plant pollution.

We Need Your Voice. Join Us!

Want to learn more about tax-deductible giving, donating stock and estate planning?

Visit Greenpeace Fund, a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) charitable entity created to increase public awareness and understanding of environmental issues through research, the media and educational programs.