Earth Day to May Day 2022 - Illinois Open Letter

The ten day period between Earth Day and May Day is a platform of solidarity and shared struggle between environmental, labor, and immigrant rights groups.

Carlos Enriquez

Wednesday, April 20, 2022, 5:16 PM

Here CEJN is republishing the open letter from the Earth Day to May Day Illinois Coalition. You can add your organization as a signee by filling out this form.

The ten day period between Earth Day–a call to action for environmental protection–and May Day–an international day of solidarity among working people, in recent years helmed by immigrant workers–is a platform for solidarity and shared struggle between environmental, labor, and immigrant rights groups. Following a year of worsening climate catastrophe, new and continued fossil fuel wars, a pandemic that widened the gap between the rich and poor, and a failure to provide pathways to citizenship for migrant workers and growing numbers of climate refugees; these ten days of action feel more urgent than ever as a chance to stand as a united front. We, the undersigned groups, stand in solidarity with one another and share our collective movement demands.

Not only do we stand together and uplift one another’s fights, but we also highlight that in most of our communities, the many identities of the Earth Day to May Day Coalition (ED2MD) intersect. Many of our most oppressed workers are immigrants, and many of our nation’s immigrants have been forced to leave their homes by crises of climate and capitalism. Across the state of Illinois, many of our working-class communities of color and immigrant communities are experiencing exploitation on the job. These workers and their families also come home to neighborhoods at the fencelines of major polluters, where they experience poor air quality and the resulting public and personal health concerns. When working-class Black, Latine, and Asian American communities are hit first and worst by climate crises, environmental justice is a racial justice fight, a workers’ rights fight, and an immigrant justice fight.

To highlight these intersections, the ED2MD Coalition is coordinating a series of events across Illinois, centering environmental and immigrant justice and labor activism. We also welcome events of allied struggles. These events will take place in or close to the period bookended by Earth Day, Friday, April 22, through May Day, Sunday, May 1, 2022.

For a full event calendar, click here. To suggest an event, click here.

This year, we continue to fight for clean, healthy air in environmental justice communities across Chicago’s South side and in all directly-impacted communities statewide. We stand in solidarity with Neighbors for Environmental Justice (N4EJ), as residents of McKinley Park rally to shut down the MAT Asphalt plant, located between two schools and across from the neighborhood’s largest green space in McKinley Park. We also stand with the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO), which calls for full transparency and accountability from Mayor Lightfoot’s administration and demands the release of the Inspector General Report that highlights the inaction of City Administration to stop the unannounced demolition of the huge toxic smoke stack of the retired Crawford coal power plant, during the pandemic on Easter Sunday 2020. We uplift Warehouse Workers for Justice’s (WWJ) organizing in Joliet for affordable water, clean air, and dignified, family-sustaining jobs in warehouses across Illinois.

Our calls for environmental justice from our local governments and from the companies who pollute our communities and exploit us as workers are firmly entwined with global calls for climate justice. As we write this statement, masses of refugees who have been displaced by the violence of imperialism, capitalism, colonialism, and climate crisis seek safety. We call out that much of this violence can be traced back to the same thread: the deep relationship between unconscionable war globally and our undue dependence on fossil fuels. To promote peace and address environmental catastrophe, at home and abroad, we demand an immediate, equitable, and just transition to clean energy.

We want to build on the tremendous success of the Southeast Environmental Task Force (SETF) and allied groups, who convinced the City of Chicago to deny an operating permit for the General Iron metal shredder that was expected to move from the predominantly-white and wealthy Lincoln Park to a majority-Latine neighborhood in Southeast Chicago with a history of pollution burdens. We are inspired and empowered by the successful struggle modeled by our movement partners, and at the same time we long for a world where elected officials protect our communities’ right to clean air without environmental justice activists needing to go on month-long hunger strikes.

We also seek to build on the successes of workers’ renewed bargaining power after two years of pandemic-necessitated lockdown. Millions of individual workers are standing against oppressive conditions and abandoning low-paying jobs in the ‘great resignation.’ Workers are also collectively organizing to demand family-supporting jobs and life-sustaining benefits like healthcare, which are all the more crucial during a deadly pandemic. On April 1st, Amazon workers in Staten Island made history by becoming the first unionized Amazon in the United States, and Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama, are making modern labor history in their own right by leading a militant labor fight in the deep South. Starbucks workers are unionizing across the country, including in Chicago. Low-wage workers, led by workers of color and youth, across many industries that have historically seemed nearly-impossible to organize are winning fights on the shop floor nationwide, and paving the way to good jobs and dignified workplaces.

At the same time as these unprecedented environmental justice and worker wins, elected officials and regulatory agencies continue to act as roadblocks instead of supporting communities leading the fight to protect people and the planet. When city, state, and federal governments do not take into account the environmental and labor implications of the companies they sign contracts with and provide funding to, they disregard public process, public land, and public health.

This Earth Day to May Day, we call on our elected officials and regulatory agencies to uphold justice and equity for our working-class communities in the following ways:

At all levels of government, elected officials and regulatory agencies alike must commit to an immediate and just transition to renewable energy that centers the needs of workers and communities. To ensure that the transition to clean energy is truly just, electeds and agencies must (1) prioritize cleaning up the environment in communities already suffering from disproportionate pollution burdens and (2) use green technology investments to uplift labor standards for all workers and ensure the creation of good, green union jobs that recruit and employ historically-marginalized groups.

Our municipal and state elected officials must make public investments in the public interest, and their contracts must not be allowed to fund or add to existing patterns of environmental racism that disproportionately burden EJ communities. Electeds should take environmental justice & labor concerns into account in decision-making, including in administering city contracts, approving city planning and development, and granting permits and tax breaks.

• The City of Chicago also has the responsibility to bring back the Department of Environment. The city currently has a Chief Sustainability Officer and while they are doing their best, they’re small team cannot hold the multiple departments guiding a city of about 2.3 million people.

• We need a Department of Environment that will be able to track data and improvements on core health, climate, and equity components of the city’s Climate Action Plan. Chicago can be a global leader in meeting metrics that make us a carbon free city in the next decade, but we need an accountability body that can help spearhead tracking improvements and hold the different departments and city sister agencies accountable to meeting their sustainability goals.

• Rahm Emanuel shut down the department of environment in 2011 with the excuse to save the City of Chicago money, but the City has had no problem giving endless streams of tax breaks to major companies who can afford to pay their fair share. Tax breaks for corporate polluters are going unchecked while communities continue to suffer devastating environmental and public health impacts from developments that they did not consent to. While these developers often promise to bring jobs, instead communities see their workers being taken advantage of with low-paying and unsustainable work, no healthcare, and dangerous conditions.

The state IEPA and federal EPA must enforce existing permitting guidelines and develop more stringent standards for corporate polluters applying for permits, especially in communities who are already overburdened by unhealthy air quality.

• Existing standards must include more oversight and enforcement mechanisms to protect EJ communities and promote equity citywide.

• Because corporate polluters are often also responsible for poor labor standards, sometimes impacting the lives of community members as both exploited workers on the job and as residents in polluted neighborhoods, the EPA must work with the Department of Labor to address the labor and environmental impacts of corporate polluters.

• The IEPA should also develop stringent standards for mobile sources of air pollution such as diesel-fueled medium and heavy duty trucks. Working-class Black and Latine communities across Illinois are often living closest to warehouses, highways, and ports, and seeing hundreds of trucks travel through their neighborhoods per day. Often, these trucks act as a compounding burden on top of existing air quality inequities. Warehouse and logistics companies must be regulated as major polluters.

Federal elected officials and agencies must ensure that funding from federal programs like Justice 40 and the recently-passed federal infrastructure package actually gets distributed to marginalized communities that have historically faced under-investment in accordance with the Title VI: Civil Rights Act. Federal decision-makers should also work to incorporate environmental justice concerns into funding distribution processes to ensure that federal money that is meant to provide support to vulnerable communities does not actually end up funding and exacerbating pollution in environmental justice communities. Federal relief money should be directed at workers, families, and small businesses, not wealthy corporations.

We need regulatory agencies and elected officials to support our community fights and uplift the leadership of those who are most impacted, who are also the most equipped to design a world that is more equitable and just. We fight for a world that transforms the lives of working people and preserves the livelihoods of younger generations through a Green New Deal; decolonization, landback and demilitarization; an end to deportations, detentions and incarceration; citizenship for all; food sovereignty and access to abundant, healthy food and water for all; paid sick leave for all workers; free and robust healthcare for all; a union jobs guarantee; accessible public transit for all; and a just transition to 100% clean, renewable energy. We call on all members of allied struggles to join us in demanding– and winning– clean air, thriving and healthy environments, good and green union jobs across all sectors, and systems of governance that are rooted in and working for communities, not corporations.

Signed,

Active Transportation Alliance

The Campaign to #StopGeneralIron

Chicago Asian Americans for Environmental Justice

Chicago Democratic Socialists of America

Chicago Environmental Justice Network Clean Power Lake County

The Equiticity Racial Equity Movement

Extinction Rebellion Chicago

Faith in Place Action Fund

The Freshwater Lab at UIC

Fridays For Future Chicago

Gamaliel of Metro Chicago- Pilsen Neighbors Community Council

Jobs to Move America Illinois

Illinois Green New Deal Coalition

Little Village Environmental Justice Organization

Neighbors for Environmental Justice

The People's Lobby

Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization

Rising Tide Chicago

Sauk Calumet Group of the Illinois Sierra Club

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73

Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter Southeast Environmental Task Force

Sunrise Movement Chicago

United Neighbors of the 10th Ward

Warehouse Workers for Justice

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About the Author

Carlos Enriquez

Carlos Enriquez is the Communications Director of CEJN. He can be reached at carlos@setaskforce.org


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