Protecting the Southeast Side and All of Chicago

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Long overdue credit was given last night. At their annual dinner, the Illinois Environmental Council rightly cast a bright spotlight on the work of the Southeast Environmental Task Force as their organization of the year.

You would be hard pressed to find a better recipient. Why?

Just think, what the Southeast Side of Chicago look like if not for the Southeast Environmental Task Force’s advocacy and leadership?

Well, a lot worse.

There would be bigger garbage mounds around the edges. And a big facility burning and refining coal right in the middle of tidy working class neighborhoods. Not coincidentally, it would have been right next door to the Koch Brothers’ and Beemsterboers’ massive petcoke piles with other folks clamoring to add to the mess of oil refining waste in the area.

Thankfully, SETF has been active: they helped lead the fight to get the solid waste ban extended. They mobilized the community to fight back against the stupid boondoggle that Leucadia proposed and the project went out with a whimper, dying the ignominious death it deserved. The Task Force sounded the alarm on the petcoke piles blighting the neighborhood—and while that fight is far from over, they forced action from City, State and national leaders and pressured the Beemsterboer petcoke piles next to the 106th Street Bridge out of existence.

When talking about the petcoke problem, Mayor Emanuel made a point of admitting that government had failed the SE Side. It was an illustrative example of why citizen advocacy is as important right now as it has ever been. Tom Sheppard and Peggy Salazar are tough and tireless advocates work on behalf and with their neighbors--and all Chicagoans. Their work is as good an example of citizen advocacy protecting the common good as you will find. This award is well-deserved and overdue. We can all learn a lot from Tom and Peggy who are not only helping to protect their neighborhood, but also our democracy.

About the Authors

Henry Henderson

Director, Midwest program

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